Paperwork from a deluge of appeals postponed the second round of bills for a statewide fire prevention fee that affects residents in unincorporated areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
According to Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the California Board of Equalization received more than 87,000 appeals in response to nearly 800,000 bills sent to California households in the latter half of 2012.
Of those 87,000 appeals, he said, about 71 percent are based on protests of taxation.
“There was a very strong movement to have residents appeal (the fee),” Berlant said. “Out of nearly 800,000 — that’s over 10 percent.”
Each appeal must be handled individually.
For that reason, Berlant said, the decision was made to postpone the second round of billing, which had been planned to take place in the spring but had no firm date set.
“We want to make sure that our bills are as accurate as possible,” he said. “We do want to catch the ones that have legitimate changes that need to be made.”
The fee is aimed at stabilizing revenue for Cal Fire, the state wildland fire protection agency, which relies on fluctuating property tax revenue.
Homeowners within areas designated as the state’s responsibility for fire protection are charged between $115 and $150 per habitable building in the unincorporated areas of California, including Bonny Doon, San Lorenzo Valley and parts of Scotts Valley.
Properties within the boundaries of a local fire protection district were billed $115, while those outside were billed $150. Cal Fire estimated the fee would raise $89 million annually for the agency.
The fee has been widely derided by residents, local governments, fire protection agencies and watchdog organizations, some of which have described it as a tax illegally foisted upon homeowners because it was never presented to voters, which Proposition 13 requires of a tax destined for a special purpose.
In protest of the fees, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a class-action lawsuit in October and is awaiting a court date.
Berlant said there was no timetable yet for the second round of billing to begin, but homeowners would be notified in advance.
At a glance
For information: http://firepreventionfee.org
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