Morrell Legislation Shines Light on Fire Fee Spending

SB 1136 brings additional transparency to program
Friday, February 19, 2016

SACRAMENTO – Continuing his work on behalf of property owners assessed a legally questionable fire prevention fee, Senator Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) has introduced Senate Bill 1136 to require CalFire to report more detailed information on how it spends State Responsibility Area fire fee revenue.

“I continue to believe that the fire prevention ‘fee’ is an illegal tax on hundreds of thousands of property owners throughout the state,” said Morrell. “It was forced through the legislature without the necessary two-thirds vote, circumventing the required process. With this cavalier attitude toward taxpayers, what’s next? Fees on homeowners with pools? Or ‘urban custodial fees’? This outlook is why the state now finds itself in a class-action lawsuit challenging the tax and why I remain committed to repealing it altogether. However, until that happens, property owners should at least know exactly how and where the money is being used. SB 1136 simply shines more light on this program.”

The fire prevention fee was enacted in 2011 as part of the state budget and is assessed on property owners in State Responsibility Areas (“SRA”), which includes many parts of the San Bernardino Mountains and the high desert.

CalFire currently accounts for most SRA fee spending under a category simply titled “Fire Prevention.” According to the department, this can include expenditures for fuel reduction projects, evacuation routes, infrastructure, defensible space inspections, law enforcement, and others.

SB 1136 adds additional layers of transparency by requiring CalFire’s annual report to include a description of each program and subprogram for which the department uses money generated from the SRA fee, including an itemized accounting of these expenditures. This bill also extends the sunset date of the reporting requirement to 2021.

“Property owners have expressed concern and frustration that they are not seeing the benefits of having paid the fire fee,” continued Morrell. “With another fire season looming ahead, the public should be assured that the money they have paid is being used to protect their homes from wildfire.”

Earlier this legislative session, Morrell also introduced SB 198 to repeal the fire fee. Outside of legislative efforts, a class action lawsuit challenging the legality of the fire fee is working its way through the courts. The ultimate goal is to overturn it, with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association leading the effort. To learn more about its status, visit www.FireTaxProtest.org.

SB 1136 will be referred to committee and set for hearing in the spring.