California News

Taxpayer group sues to fight Cal Fire fees

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Eddie Aflague is almost done having his garage rebuilt after a fire destroyed it this summer.

There was no cost to fight his fire, but he was surprised sometime after, when he received an annual fire bill from the state for $150.

"Where did this come from first of all? I don't want to pay that. We're already paying our taxes for the fire department to come out," he said.

The fire bills began going out a couple of months ago to 825,000 mostly rural California residents who live in what are called SRAs, State Responsibility Areas, where Cal Fire responds to fires.

It was part of a 2011 budget deal between the governor and Democrats who say the fee, which will generate about $40 million annually, is legitimate because the once rural lands now face greater wildfire risk.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association just filed a lawsuit claiming that fee is really a tax, which means the Legislature needed a supermajority for it to be valid.

The group ultimately wants homeowners refunded.

"We're having them pay it under protest, and we filed a class action lawsuit against that tax, seeking to invalidate it in its entirety," said Jon Coupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

In light of a year that's already seeing 1,300 more fires statewide than last year, Cal Fire says the fee is critical. In fact, the agency's budget has already been deducted by the amount the fire fee was supposed to bring in this year.

"A majority of our budget comes from the general fund, which goes up and down with the economy," said Daniel Berlant, a Cal Fire Spokesman. "With this new funding source with the fee itself, it provides a stable funding source to help us prevent some of the state's largest and most damaging wildfires."

Aflague is not buying it and is ready to join the lawsuit.

"I would like to get my name in there to see if we can get this thing cancelled out," he said.

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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legal, cal fire, california news, nannette miranda
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