Residents balk at future fire protection fee

July 21, 2011 5:54:23 PM PDT
Fighting home and grass fires costs money, and while the state's budget has been shrinking, the fire danger has not. Now, there is growing backlash to a new fee the state is charging residents for fire protection.

The State of California provides fire protection through CalFire, covering 31 million acres of land in mostly-rural areas, which make up one-third of the state. To help pay for that service, 850,000 residents will be billed $150 a year under a new law Governor Brown signed this month. The bill was pushed through with only Democratic support.

Imagine the outrage in communities like Rancho Murieta outside of Sacramento, where residents already pay an extra fee for fire services.

"I don't want to pay double taxes," said Paula Galvez-Fox. "We're taxed enough for everything!"

Letitia Sexton also opposes the fire feed, adding that it's "just another way to fee us to death so that they can cover all the expenses."

State Senator Ted Gaines just filed a referendum with the state that would ask voters to overturn the new fire fee, which he says is really a tax. The Roseville Republican thinks property taxes already cover basic services.

"Clearly, it's illegal in my mind. Clearly, it's unfair," Gaines said. "They're already paying taxes for these services and there's no excuse to go after rural home owners again."

But with an up-and-down economy, CalFire says it can't do its job with constant budget cuts, especially when developers keep building in wildfire territory. The fire fee would mean $200 million a year for the agency.

"It would be detrimental to us to lose that much of our fire protection funding," said CalFire Deputy director Janet Upton.

Though higher taxes are unpopular, soem residents understand why they are necessary.

"Everyone wants fire protection," said Brenda Davis, a supporter of the new fire fee. "We have to pay for it. We want police protection, you've got to pay for it. So I don't have a problem with an extra $150."

When lawmakers come back from summer break, they'll try to tweak the law to exclude residents who already pay a local fire fee, but that's not good enough for Gaines, who said he'll proceed with trying to get half a million signatures to qualify for the June ballot.


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