USA–– This can be a cruel season for our regions suburbs and backcountry. Many of the biggest wildfires in California history have swept San Diego County in the fall. Some communities havent fully recovered from the 2007 firestorms, which destroyed whole neighborhoods and ended lives.
Now the state is adding insult to catastrophic injury.
Tens of thousands of local homeowners are getting hit this month with a new tax. State officials are bent on collecting up to $150 a year for each home in rural and semi-rural areas where Cal Fire is responsible for wildland fire protection.
Sacramento lawmakers argue they need the money to pay for fire prevention initiatives. But the 2011 legislation that established the tax doesnt require Cal Fire to spend a dime on such programs and allows the money to be used to fill gaps in the agencys dwindling budget for at least the next five years.
In other words, the state is squeezing homeowners for a bailout because of its own botched budgeting.
Sacramento has long been known for mismanaging state finances. This is the same government that threatened last year to close scores of state parks, when it was later revealed it had hidden $54 million in park assets.
Now its turning to an estimated 400,000 San Diego County residents, along with other Californians, for more money at a time when folks are already meeting and often exceeding their basic obligations as taxpayers.
Most homeowners in wildfire-prone communities are taxed twice. They pay property taxes to the state. Part of that money is supposed to go to Cal Fire and other public safety agencies. Most rural residents also pay special local fees for additional fire protection.
Yet here comes the state, out to tax them a third way.
As Ive said since the idea was first raised, the tax is an insult and unjust particularly to those who have been victimized by disaster. Thousands of San Diego County residents have lost their homes due to major blazes over the past decade. Some have lost loved ones.
Even victims of the recent Shockey fire in the backcountry, near Boulevard, have received fire tax bills from the state in recent weeks. One bill went to an elderly couple whose house was destroyed in the 2,500-acre blaze.
All because the state cant get its financial act together.
Our local county government is making significant strides on the firefighting front. It spends $15.5 million each year to augment rural fire protection in the region. More than $10 million of that money goes directly to Cal Fire.
This is part of the more than $250 million the county has spent since 2003 to upgrade firefighting equipment, staff backcountry fire stations year-around, unify rural fire agencies under a new county Fire Authority and to carry out other improvements.
Meanwhile, there are no guarantees how revenue from the new state tax will be spent, or that any of it will even stay within San Diego County and boost fire protection in our most vulnerable communities.
No wonder residents and government watchdogs are angry about the tax. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is seeking to overturn it, arguing in a class-action lawsuit that the levy was approved in an illegal manner.
The tax bills hitting mailboxes are tied to the 2011-12 fiscal year, which ended in June. In a move that will further inflame residents, the state is expected to send an additional round of bills at another $150 per home to the same properties in the next few months to raise money for the current fiscal year.
In recent weeks, my office has been swamped with calls from folks who have received a bill and are wondering what to do. Heres what Im advising them: Pay it within its 30-day due date, but also lodge a formal protest.
I suggest homeowners write UNDER PROTEST on their check and challenge the fee by going to
www.firetaxprotest.org and clicking on Refund. An attached petition must be completed and sent to the appropriate state agencies in case a lawsuit results in overturning the fee and refunds are ordered.
If the state cant see how wrong this tax is, hopefully the courts will. The failure was in the forest areas.Advertisement
Following a 10-year strategy, ACT fire managers have created a mosaic across the landscape of different fuel levels, burning at every opportunity.
But forests have been too wet to burn this spring and the past two summers.
A network of 500 fire trails and strategic burns along the north-west urban edge, heavy grazing and extra grass slashing will create a fortress for the territory which forecasters say faces a higher than average risk this summer.
After a fire-fuelled tornado in January 2003 killed four Canberrans and frightened thousands more, CSIRO fire expert Phil Cheney told the subsequent inquiry the fire’s penetration into urban areas under extreme conditions did not reflect a failure of fuel management on the urban interface.