Lawmakers OK $150 wildlands fire protection fee

Lawmakers OK $150 wildlands fire protection fee

15 June 2011

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USA — Rekindling a perennial budget battle, Democrats have pushed through legislation that would impose a $150 annual levy on those who own homes in wildland areas defended by CalFire.

It has the potential to cover about 73,000 homes in San Diego County and nearly 850,000 statewide.

The measure — part of the broader state budget package taken up Wednesday — would generate up to $160 million a year, Democrats say.

However, it could be short-lived. Outnumbered Republicans immediately vowed to appeal, claiming the new charge included in the measure must be passed by a two-thirds vote instead of the simple majority it received in both houses.

Voters in November approved Proposition 26, an initiative that requires a supermajority vote requirement for many fees. Republicans pointed to the new law in the constitution, stating that “any change in state statute” regarding fees must be approved by a two-thirds vote.

“It will be challenged and an injunction will be issued in a short period of time,” said Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore. He said if the $150 charge stands, homeowners will balk at paying special district fire protection fees, leading to precarious funding for local needs.

But Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, said the charge is legal because Proposition 26 permits simple-majority fees if there is a direct nexus between the cost and service.

Kehoe said CalFire has been saddled with even more responsibilities as growth exploded in the wild lands so those who have moved in should be willing to pay for their protection.

“This is a fair way to deal with these high costs,” she said.

The fee would be imposed on all “inhabited dwellings.” CalFire defines them as “housing units.”

It must still be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

CalFire serves about 1 million acres in San Diego County and 31 million statewide.

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