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California Fire Prevention Fee Hits Big Bear Homeowners

 

Property owners in the un-incorporated areas of the Big Bear valley, and throughout California, started receiving bills from the California Board of Equalization last week that has set off a firestorm (pun intended) of confusion. The following is a Q and A on the “fire fee” with links to important websites.

What is the Fire  Prevention Fee?
On July 7, 2011 the State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Benefit Fee was signed into law. The Legislature has said that the fee is for fire prevention, not for fighting fires. According to the official fire fee website, the fee will be used to help prevent fires by allowing more brush clearing and forest health management.

Who does the Fee apply to?
The fire fee applies to anyone owning property in a State Responsibility Area (SRA), which includes rural areas in the state that are not federally owned.

What is the State Responsibility Area?
The State Responsibility Area is the area within California where the state is financially responsible for the prevention and suppression of wildfires. The SRA does not include lands within city boundaries or in federal ownership. This means that if your property is located within the boundaries of the City of Big Bear Lake you are exempt from paying the fee.

How much is the Fire Fee?
The fee is $150 per habitable structure, which is defined as a building that can be occupied for residential use. Owners of habitable structures who are also within the boundaries of a local fire protection agency, including the Big Bear Valley, will receive a reduction of $35 per habitable structure. The fee is charged per Assessor’s Parcel Number (APN) and owners of multi-family dwellings (including apartment buildings) pay only $150 for the entire complex. The owner of a duplex pays one $150 fee whether it’s two cabins on one lot or two units in one building. Owners of vacant parcels are not assessed a fee.

Why is the Fire Fee assessed in arrears?
Since the fee was signed into law in 2011, homeowners will be billed for the 2011-2012 fiscal year (July 1-June 30).  The Board of Equalization is sending bills now for fiscal year 2011/2012 and is scheduled to send fiscal year 2012/2013 bills to homeowners in March of 2013.

Who is challenging the Fire Fee?
Many people are throughout the state are unhappy about the fire fee. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has stated that they will file suit against the fee now that the first round of fire fee bills have been mailed out. The Association is claiming that the fee is unconstitutional because it is actually a tax, and will file suit on this ground.

If a homeowner objects to the Fire Fee do they still have to pay?
YES. Big Bear homeowners MUST pay the fire fee, even if they are attempting to appeal their fee or if a lawsuit later determines that the fee is unconstitutional. If this happens the court will probably issue a refund to all homeowners who paid the fee. Not paying the fee can also result in a lien on a property. The lien will follow the person, so even if a person does not own the property anymore, he or she must pay the fee or face a lien on any currently owned property.

What if I don’t own the property anymore?
Pay close attention to this one. If the homeowner owned the property at any point during the fiscal year for which the Fire Fee is assessed, the homeowner must pay the fee.

What is the penalty for paying the Fee late?
Late penalties up to 20% of the fee may be assessed if the payment is late. Not paying the fee can result in a lien on the property, and penalties. The lien will follow the person, so even if a person does not own the property anymore, he/she must pay the fee or face a lien.

Additional information can be found on the official site – http://www.firepreventionfee.org/ and information on how to appeal the fee can be found at – http://www.firetaxprotest.org.

More About California’s Fire Prevention Fee;

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