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California fire fee on hold amid appeals by property owners

April 08, 2013|By Marc Lifsher
  • An unidentified woman watches as flames approach her home from a fast-moving wildfire near Palmdale.
An unidentified woman watches as flames approach her home from a fast-moving… (Dan Steinberg / Associated…)

SACRAMENTO -- The tax man isn’t coming, at least not yet.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has postponed sending bills for fire protection service to 825,000 property owners living in rural and suburban areas.

Cal Fire asked tax collectors to not mail the 2012-13 bills -- $150 per habitable structure -- because the agency department is struggling to process almost 90,000 homeowner appeals of its bills sent last year. The bulk of the appeals argue that the tax, described by officials as a “fee,” is unconstitutional. Others claim contend that the bills are miscalculated.

QUIZ: How well do you remember 2012?

The assessment became law in 2011. It’s aimed at making suburban and rural homeowners living in areas where the state is responsible for fire protection to pay some of Cal Fire’s costs. The agency department estimates that bills are headed for 19,016 people in Los Angeles County, 6,581 in Orange County, 33,843 in Riverside County and 65,637 in San Bernardino County. The tax/fee is being challenged in court by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.

“Ever since the Legislature enacted this illegal tax, it’s created one problem after another,” said state Board of Equalization board member George Runner. “If the Legislature doesn’t act quickly to repeal this fiasco, the courts need to strike it down.”

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