California still has a proposed fire tax on the books, but the proposed fee dropped by $60.
The levy is still opposed by local fire officials, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and Assemblyman Paul Cook. If implemented, property owners could get a bill sometime in September.
At its Aug. 22 board meeting, the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection cut the levy from $150 per inhabitable structure to $90 per structure. The fee would be levied against structures in state responsibility areas for fire protection services. There are state responsibility areas within the unincorporated areas of Big Bear Valley.
The problem is that CalFire provides no fire protection or suppression services within the Valley. The fire prevention fee was signed into law as part of a state budget agreement, but someone forgot to read the fine print.
As it is written, the funds would be returned to the individual local communities for fire protection and education services. Governor Jerry Brown thought he was getting money to backfill CalFire’s budget, which was cut by the amount projected to be collected by the fee. There is a move to amend the legislation to allow for that to occur. Officials are fighting that proposal and urge voters to contact their state representatives to stop the legislation amendment and to urge the law to be abolished.
San Bernardino County Third District Supervisor Neil Derry led the fight at the supervisory level. On Aug. 23, the board passed a resolution officially opposing the fire tax. The resolution also supports efforts to rescind the tax and authorizes the county to pursue legal remedies to implementing the fire tax.
Prior to the Aug. 22 fire board meeting, Assemblyman Cook released a statement calling the fire tax fraud. He said homeowners would be double-taxed for fire protection without receiving additional service.
Big Bear City, San Bernardino County and Big Bear Lake fire departments provide fire protection and suppression services to all areas of Big Bear. Property owners pay for that service through existing taxes and assessments. If the state fire tax is imposed, property owners would be charged twice.
In acting Aug. 22, the state fire board authorized a $45 credit for all areas already paying for fire protection services, which includes Big Bear areas within the state responsibility areas. That reduces the tax to $45 per structure, but is still a double tax, authorities say.
“I believe it’s criminal,” said Big Bear City Fire Chief Jeff Willis about the fire fee. Willis is also the interim fire chief for the Big Bear Lake Fire Protection District.
Willis told The Grizzly in July that CalFire has no presence in Big Bear Valley. The agency’s responsibility for wildland protection is assumed by the U.S. Forest Service under an Exchange of Acres agreement, Willis said. Under the agreement, the Forest Service provides wildland protection to all state responsibility areas in Big Bear. CalFire reciprocates in another area where that agency has a larger presence for day-to-day operations.
“I have stated all along that this is an illegal tax and subjects county residents to double taxation,” Derry said. “I am thankful that the board recognized the unfairness of this new tax.”
Other provisions of the board’s ruling would provide additional credits of $20 for some owners based on other circumstances and conditions.
Contact reporter Judi Bowers at 909-866-3456, ext. 137 or by e-mail at email@example.com.