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State demands fire fee

By: Laura O’Brien, Loomis News Correspondent
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Loomis and Penryn residents barraged local fire stations last week with questions about the new state-mandated fire fee.

The $150 fee has been imposed on state responsibility areas outside of incorporated towns. Roughly 5,000 to 6,000 people living within the Loomis Fire Protection District, but outside Town of Loomis borders are affected, said Dave Wheeler, fire protection district chief.

“Residents need to pay that bill because there’s some pretty significant penalties if they don’t,” Wheeler said.

Penalties include a further fee and potential lien.

He said Loomis residents were surprised when they received notices about the fee from the State Board of Equalization.  He said they expected the fee to show up on their property tax bills.

“I knew it was coming, but you know, until you actually see the dollar sign it doesn’t register,” said Bill Tudsbury, who lives outside the town borders and is a member of the Loomis Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

The California Legislature passed the fee and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law last summer.  The fee brings in $84 million for fire prevention, including thinning brush and trees around homes.  Statewide it’s the rural property owners on 31 million acres covered by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection who will receive bills.  Property owners who already pay fees to a fire district get a $35 fee reduction.

Most property owners in the Penryn Fire Protection District are subject to the fire fee because Penryn is unincorporated.

“We’re actually getting overwhelmed with quite a few phone calls and people coming in not understanding the fees,” said Mitch Higgins, Penryn Fire Protection District chief. 

Earlier this month, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a class action lawsuit against the Department of Forestry and the State Board of Equalization on behalf of the 825,000 California property owners subject to the fire fee.

Higgins said, “We’re explaining to them that it’s a fee that Cal Fire is putting together for prevention, but we have been leading them to Howard Jarvis.”

Wheeler said none of the new fees will come back to Loomis residents in the form of services. 

“It very much is a bait and switch situation,” he said.  “They are getting no additional services than they got before.”

Cal Fire’s Placer County operations include stations in Auburn, Lincoln and Roseville.  Wheeler said Cal Fire is responsible for brush fires, not structure fires or emergency calls, but Loomis Fire responds to brush fires, too.

“Obviously, a vegetation fire can take out structures.  If there’s a fire we’re going to put it out as quickly as we can,” he said.

The fire fee will pay for fire prevention efforts, like brush clearing near residential areas and roadways, along with improving forest health so forests can endure wildfires, according to Cal Fire’s website.

Brian Myers sits on the board for the Penryn Fire Protection District.

“We’re paying to help Southern California with their fire problem and it’s the same fee for everybody up and down the state,” Myers said.  “It’s not right that we have to help pay for L.A.”

Tudsbury said he has visited the Howard Jarvis website about the fire fee lawsuit at www.firetaxprotest.org.

“I hope everybody outside the Town of Loomis goes to this website and follows through on this so at least we can have some voice heard on this,” he said.

Auburn Journal staff writer Amber Marra contributed to this article