Angel Fire approves wildfire protection fees

Angel Fire approves wildfire protection fees

01 August 2013

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USA — The Angel Fire Village Council voted unanimously July 23 to require all village landowners to pay a monthly wildfire protection fee determined by the size of their lots.

The new monthly fee is $5 for 1 acre or less, $8 for 1.01 to 2.5 acres, $11 for 2.51 to 5 acres, $13 for 5.01 acres or more and $2 per dwelling unit in a multi-dwelling structure.

As costs of fighting wildfires rise, some governments have been looking more closely at wildfire protection fees. In 2011, the California legislature gave the state tax board authority to collect a fee from the 850,000 homes covered by Calfire, the state’s wildland firefighting agency.

In Angel Fire, village officials estimate they will draw $308,988 in revenue from the fee for fiscal year 2013-14. But they expect actual income to be less because some undeveloped properties owned by Angel Fire Resort will be billed as a single lot.

The wildfire protection fee replaced a monthly slash fee of $5 per vacant lot, $3 per built lot and $2 per dwelling unit in a multi-dwelling structure. Because of the amount landowners already paid in slash fees, Village Manager M. Jay Mitchell said, the wildfire protection fee “does not equate to a raise for about 90 percent of our residents.”

Mitchell said the slash fee was expected to generate $265,320 per year when it was approved in 2008, though “I doubt if we saw $40,000 last year because of the way it’s billed and accounted for.”

In an email, Mitchell told Village Councilor Don Welker that it “would take a forensic audit to verify” if budgeted amount for the slash fee, $42,000, “was met or exceeded as the accounting is a mess.”

Village officials plan to use the revenue from the wildfire protection fee to implement a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Through this plan, the village would dispose of slash, launch an education campaign, install evacuation route signs, compile a list of consultants and tree-thinning companies, inspect and certify thinned lots, identify properties that are out of compliance with wildfire prevention requirements and establish an on-call crew to carry out thinning prescriptions on delinquent properties.

Existing ordinances already require Angel Fire landowners to remove certain trees and other potential fire fuels, and Mitchell told the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle that revenues from the wildfire protection fees will not help cover the cost of thinning private lots.

In the email to Welker, Mitchell wrote that the village would transfer 20 percent of the projected revenues, or $61,798 in the 2013-14 budget, to the solid waste department to handle the extra slash produced by thinning. The remaining $247,190 would go into a wildfire protection fund.

Mitchell told the council that the village has only one grapple truck and will need another one to collect the slash produced by thinning. The truck is expected to cost between $120,000 and $150,000.

Mitchell also said the village will need more personnel to handle the extra slash.

“We’re looking at out-year costs to improve our equipment, improve our manpower and improve the services, while we’re expecting our citizens to thin their property,” he said, adding that the village also needs to pay for contractors to assess lots.

“We’re also going to need funds available to us to enforce these ordinances against citizens that haven’t done their fair share in protecting not only the village but their neighbors’ property,” he said.

Fire Chief Andy Bertges added that the village will need funding to hire a forester as well.

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