I heard that the fire fee is just suspended. Does that mean it could come back?
Under AB 398, collection of the fire fee is suspended through the year 2030. After that, the entire fire fee Act is repealed. It is a two-step process because the State has tens of millions of dollars of unspent fire fee revenue sitting in a reserve fund. AB 398 keeps the fire fee Act alive so that these reserve funds will be appropriated for purposes outlined in the Act. But yes, in theory, the “fee” (actually a tax) could be brought back at any time between now and 2030.
Does AB 398 require the State to refund past payments of the fire fee?
No. Refunds will be paid only if HJTA prevails in its lawsuit and refunds are ordered by the Court.
Does the two-thirds vote approving AB 398 have the effect of retroactively ratifying the original fire fee?
No. AB 398 contains no language authorizing collection of the fire fee, only suspension and repeal of the fire fee. Moreover, AB 398 specifies that its effective date is July 1, 2017, not some retroactive date.
Does AB 398’s repeal of the fire fee make HJTA’s lawsuit moot?
No. HJTA’s lawsuit must still be resolved by the courts because it seeks refunds for past payments of the fire fee.
Why did I receive a bill from the State for fire prevention?
A bill passed by the Legislature (all Democrats in favor, all Republicans opposed) and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in July 2011 established a new annual Fire Prevention Fee to be collected from the owners of private property located within the State Responsibility Area. The fee is $150 per habitable structure.
What is the State Responsibility Area?
The State Responsibility Area consists of public and private land that has been designated by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) as areas where the State claims primary responsibility for the prevention and suppression of wildfires. It does not include land within city boundaries or under federal jurisdiction. Click here to view a map of the SRA.
What if I already pay a special tax or assessment for local fire protection?
If you pay a special tax or assessment to a local fire district, you should have received a $35 credit. If you did not receive the credit, click here to request a redetermination.
What does the fee pay for?
There are several purposes for which fee revenue can be expended. How it will ultimately be spent is unknown. It can be given away as grants to counties, special districts, local fire safe councils, the California Conservation Corps, or nonprofit organizations. It can be used to fund CalFire mapping, or inspections of private property for compliance with defensible space requirements around structures. It can also be used for billboards or radio ads to educate the public about fire danger and prevention. Or it can be used for other projects authorized by the CDF Board.
That sounds like a tax. What’s the difference?
Fees are charged to recover the government’s cost to provide some service to the person paying the fee, or to regulate the activities of a business. Taxes, on the other hand, are revenue raising devices and need not be related in any specific way to benefits received by, or risks posed by the payer. The Legislature can enact fees with a simple majority vote, but needs a two-thirds vote of each house to enact taxes.
Is anyone challenging this tax?
Under the definition above, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association believes the new Fire Prevention Fee is really a tax that needed (but did not receive) two-thirds legislative approval. The Association will be filing suit to challenge the fee and seek refunds for people who have filed a Petition for Redetermination.
If the courts might overturn it, then do I have to pay it?
Yes. You have 30 days from the mailing of the bill to pay it. If you are late, there is a 10% penalty, plus interest. The fee is a lien on your property, and failure to pay can result in foreclosure.
Can I get my money back?
If the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is successful in their lawsuit, the court may order refunds to people who have filed a Petition for Redetermination. For instructions on how to file this form, click here. To stay updated if any further actions need to be taken, sign up for our email updates.
My Petition for Redetermination was Denied, Now What?
Once you submit your Petition for Redetermination, do not be surprised if you receive a response from CDF denying your Petition on the grounds that it lacks a “statutory basis” for exemption from the fee. That simply means that CDF has no authority to evaluate our legal theories or pass judgment on them. Only a court can do that. If you receive such a denial, you do not need to take any action. Our lawsuit anticipates that everyone’s Petition will be denied, and asks the court to step in and grant relief.
Do I need to file a Petition for Redetermination for each year that I receive a bill?
No, you only need to file one timely Petition for Redetermination. At first, HJTA advised people to submit a new Petition each year. This was in case the Court only allowed refunds for years when people filed a Petition. But now, the Court has confirmed that people protesting the Fire Tax only need to file one timely Petition. If we win, that timely Petition will make you eligible for refunds for the first year you filed and all following years.