Our view: Taxpayers burned by brush fees

Our view: Taxpayers burned by brush fees

22 January 2009

published by www.eagletribune.com

USA — Haverhill officials have discovered yet another way to squeeze more money out of hard-pressed property owners: the backyard brush fire.

The risk of house fires from burning brush in Haverhill has not spiked. There is no long list of charred buildings in the last year or so from brush fires that have gotten out of control.

In short, there is no big public safety problem from what citizens have done for decades — get rid of waste branches and brush by burning it in the backyard between January and the end of April.

Yet, it is suddenly much more expensive. It used to be free to get a burning permit that lasted the entire four months. Now it will cost $25 for a permit that will be good for only two days. But fire officials say not to worry — residents can buy as many permits as they want. That is small comfort.

And that is not the only expense. Fire officials are now using a Geographic Information System to determine if a property owner has enough space for a fire to be at least 75 feet from any building. If not, he or she won’t be able to burn at all, and will likely have to haul all that brush away, or pay somebody else to do it.

Finally, the department is going to be much more rigorous in enforcing the rules. In the past, it did not fine people for illegal burning, but simply ordered the fire extinguished. Now, the first violation will bring a warning, the second will cost $50, and any others will be $100.

This, according to fire Chief Richard Borden, is all about safety — about keeping fires away from structures.

That is clearly a worthy goal, but structural fires from backyard burning have not been a problem — not until the need for more money in the city’s coffers became more pressing.

This is not about public safety. It is all about another revenue source that is not technically a tax.

City officials ought to be honest enough to admit it.

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