More errors are being discovered in the bills being sent to rural property owners by CalFire for “fire prevention.” The controversial “fee,” which many are calling an illegally engineered tax, is based on dubious data collected by CalFire via a combination of assessor records, Community Development records, aerial photographs, and GIS (computerized Geographical Information System) compiled by a third party “designator fee administrator.” Not only do the bills reflect taxable “habitable structures” which are clearly not habitable, but they are based on data which is months if not years old causing the bills, in many cases, to be sent to the wrong people.
Adding penalty to injury, the burden of correcting the errors is the responsibility of property owners who get the erroneous bills. People with inaccurate bills can file a “redetermination petition” within 30 days of receiving their bill. The petition and directions can be downloaded from the Fire Protection Fee Service Center or the State Board of Equalization Websites. To protest a fee the property owner must “attach all documentation to prove your case and make copies for your records before mailing the petition to Fire Prevention Fee Service Center, Attn: Petitions, PO Box 2254 , Suisun City CA 94585.” (And you better send it “return receipt requested.”)
The State Responsibility Calfire board is supposed to review the petitions within 60 days and notify the property owner of the decision, which may or not be the one the property owner expected. Theoretically, a corrected bill will be issued, or a decision for reimbursement if the bill has already been paid. The property owner has 30 days to pay the bill or apply for a reimbursement from the Board of Equalization.
If the bill is not paid, penalties are incurred. If a fire protection fee is not paid within 30 days, penalties of up to 20% of the bill can be added every 30 days the bill goes unpaid. Liens are attached to the name listed as the property owner, not on the property itself, so an unpaid bill will show up against the owner’s credit, even if they don’t now own the property.
Info on the fire prevention fee can be obtained from the firepreventionfee.org website or you can try calling the Fire Prevention Fee Service Center at 1-888-310-6447. (And good luck with that.) For questions about payments contact the State Board of Equalization at 1-800-400-7115. For questions about parcels, contact the County Assessor’s Office which in Mendocino County is reachable at 463-4311 or check the County assessor’s website: http://www.co.mendocino.ca.us/acr/
Supposedly a guide to the fee process called the “SRA Definition Guide” is available on the firepreventionfee.org website. But according to the note on the site Sunday afternoon it’s “coming soon” — after the bills are sent.
Oh, and did we mention that the money won’t really go to increasing CalFire’s fire prevention services? Instead, when the dust settles, an amount of money more or less equal to what the state collects in fire prevention “fees” will be taken from CalFire’s overall budget to help balance the state’s budget. A more cynical, not to mention convoluted and underhanded, way of balancing the state’s budget would be hard to imagine.