Millions raised from Cal Fire fee going unspent

October 5, 2015

CAL_FIRE_twitterAs fires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres in California this year, the state has kept millions of dollars raised from a controversial fee sitting in a fire prevention account. [Sac Bee]

In June 2011, lawmakers approved legislation requiring residents who live in rural areas serviced by Cal Fire to pay an annual fee for fire prevention. Most residents pay $117.33 a year per habitable structure, and the fee has raised more than $300 million through June 2015.

The majority of the revenue has been spent on administration and statewide prevention activities, vegetation clearing, defensible space inspections and other programs. But, as of June 30, $43 million remain left over in a fire prevention account.

In recent weeks, the Valley and Butte fires have burned more 76,000 and 71,000 acres respectively. State responsibility lands made up more than 80 percent of the areas burned by the two fires.

State officials say they have proceeded cautiously in spending the Cal Fire fee funds because they were not sure how much revenue the free would raise.

Republican State Sen. Jim Nielsen, who sits on the budget subcommittee that oversees Cal Fire, said the agency is hoarding the money.

“What for, I don’t know,” Nielsen said.

Some critics say the state is keeping reserve funds out of fear a court will overturn the fee.

The state is currently battling a lawsuit filed by critics who argue the Cal Fire fee is an illegal tax. The fee was approved by a majority vote of the legislature, not a two-thirds vote, as is required for taxes.

In August, a Sacramento County judge elevated the lawsuit to class-action status. The case is supposed to go to trial next year. If the state were to lose, it would face refunding about 12,000 property owners at a cost of more than $7 million.

Proponents of the fee have argued it was a fair way to prevent Cal Fire budget cuts because residents in rural areas increase the state’s firefighting costs.

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This ill-conceived “fee” is full of problems. While it might be fair to assess those whose rural properties are protected by Cal Fire, the fee is also charged to those with rural properties NOT protected by Cal Fire. For example, if you live in certain mountainous parts of Kern Co to our east, your fire protection and prevention services are provided by the US Forest Service and the county fire department, neither of which shares in the proceeds from this fee. Cal Fire doesn’t even have fire stations in these areas. Cal Fire collects the “fee,” which is supposed to be for a service they render, but none of your fee goes towards a service from which you benefit in any way. Good luck to those challenging it in court.

This tax was to be used for fire prevention education only,not to be used for wages,equipment or some other such expenses,but don’t you worry CDF will figure out how to wiz it away one way or another,or the state will quietly glum onto it and wiz it away,we won’t be getting our tax monies back.

Oddly enough I got on the phone last week and tried to find out where our money was,I started with the tax collection agency of the state board of equalization, I never have figured out where the word equalization fits the equation,that agency is no better than the PUC, they told me that they had no idea where the monies go but after some prodding they gave me another agency to contact,this seemed to be a clearing house for phone calls cause the operator tried to tell me how the monies were to be used when asked the question of where is the money and what is it being spent on, after asking a few times where it was and where she finally admitted that she knew nothing about it and to call CDF, that would be a waste of time also as they don’t know much either, I guess the next step would be to have one of our representives check on it.

Ttey sent me a bill a couple of years after I sold my home for $125, for “retroactive” fire protection. I told them I didn’t have any fires at that house, they said “You’re welcome”.

It’s a tax because the tax collector is the one doing the billing. I will be waiting for my refund.

Are pensions considered to admin costs?

If residents in rural areas increase fire fighting costs then high crime areas such as Compton, Oakland, Santa Maria and others should pay a Crime Prevention Fee to pay for increased use of CHP resources. Given that these areas are heavily democratic while rural areas are heavily republican I doubt our left leaning legislature will accept my suggestion.

And SLO residents should be required to pay a Corrupt Bureaucracy Fee… hey, this is gonna be great! Fire area, crime area, corruption area…

Hopefully, there won’t be a ballot initiative to prevent this kind of taxation without representation… oh wait… ooops, forget I said anything.

We already pay that fee. It’s called Measure G.