Unfair Tax? You can protest your bill, but you still have to pay
CALIFORNIA – Property owners across the state have been receiving bills for what is being called the “rural fire fee.” Anyone living in what has been designated a State Responsibility Area (SRA) is being required to pony up $150 per habitable structure on the property. An SRA is an area where the state bears the primary responsibility for fire suppression and prevention.Those already paying for fire protection are granted a $35 discount, but that doesn’t do much to take the sting out of a fee that many believe is an illegal tax on a select group of California residents.
For bill recipients not opposed to paying the fee, things are simple – payment is due within 30 days of the bill’s date. You can pay by check or visit www.boe.ca.gov and click on the eServices tab.
For those who feel differently, there are things you need to know, and steps you must take to protest paying the fee.
Your current bill is retroactive for the time period July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. This is an annual fee, and you will receive another bill in early 2013.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA) has stated publicly that they will challenge this fee in court. The HJTA offers SRA residents some guidelines as to how to proceed and protect themselves now, so they will be able to claim a refund if this fee is struck down. You can visit their website at http://firetaxprotest.org for specific information and forms. Here are some important points they make on their website:
-You must pay your bill! You have 30 days to pay, and if you pay late, you will incur interest and be charged steep penalties, compounded monthly.
-The fee is a lien on your property, and failure to pay can result in foreclosure.
-If a courts strikes down the fee, refunds may be ordered. To qualify for a refund, however, you must have paid your bill. You must also have filed a “Petition for Redetermination” with the responsible agencies, and within the time period allotted.
-HJTA recommends that you write “under protest” on the notation line of your check, and make a copy of the check so that you can enclose it with your Petition for Redetermination form, as proof of payment.
HJTA says information on the brochure enclosed with your bill is not entirely correct.
According to HJTA, although only one address appears at the bottom of the form, state law actually requires that you submit the form to three different addresses. HJTA states that you must submit it within 30 days of the date of your bill to the three addresses below:
- Fire Prevention Petitions, P.O. Box 2254, Suisun City, CA 94585
- Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, P.O. Box 944246, Sacramento, CA 94244
- Board of Equalization, P.O. Box 942879, Sacramento, CA 94279
As stated on their website, the HJTA believes “this fee is really an illegal tax under Proposition 13. We plan to challenge the constitutionality of this tax in court.”
George Runner, who served 12 years in the State Legislature, is now a member of the California State Board of Equalization, the agency tasked with collecting the fee. Runner says he opposes what he considers an illegal tax.
“I’ve opposed this new tax from the beginning, because I believe it is unconstitutional,” says Runner. “The Governor and Legislature simply called it a ‘fee’ to avoid the two-thirds vote requirement designed to protect taxpayers. I intend to join a lawsuit asking the courts to halt this illegal money-grab as soon as possible.
“Additionally, this new tax, hitting property owners who are already financially challenged, will not result in increased fire protection. Instead, the money collected will take the place of funding that was diverted to other government programs.”
To read more about this issue, click here for an in-depth article about the fee, posted on S|N|O on July 4, 2012.
Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott explains, “The fee will fund a variety of vital fire prevention services across the SRA that include activities to improve forest health so our forests can better withstand the damaging effects of wildfire.” Read more of Pimlott’s explanation about the fee and why it is necessary in this article.
For more information, call the Fire Prevention Fee Service Center, toll-free, at 888-310-6447, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or visit their website at www.firepreventionfee.org.
Below is the text of AB 29 X1, authored by Robert Blumenfield (D-Van Nuys), from the website leginfo.public.ca.gov, the California Legislature’s Public Access computer.
SUMMARY : Contains necessary statutory changes in the area of resources and state fire protection to implement changes to the Budget Act of 2011. The Senate amendments delete the Assembly version of this bill, and instead: 1)Impose an annual $150 fire prevention fee on structures located in the State Responsibility Areas (SRA); requires fee revenues to be available to the Board of Forestry (Board) and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF), upon appropriation by the Legislature, for fire prevention activities in SRAs. 2)Direct the State Board of Equalization (BOE) to collect the fee beginning in fiscal year 2011-12. BOE is authorized to retain a portion of the fee to cover its expenses. 3)Require the fee proceeds to be available, upon appropriation by the Legislature, for fire prevention activities in SRAs, attributable to benefits conferred on structures subject to the fire prevention fee. 4)Establish an appeals process for anyone who is required to pay the fee. A person may file a petition for a "redetermination" of a fee with the Board and CDF within 30 days after receipt of the property tax bill. CDF is required to adjudicate the petition and make a determination, including elimination of the fee, in writing. 5)Require the Board, by January 1, 2013 and annually thereafter, to submit report on the status and uses of the fees to the Legislature.