Union Democrat staff

This year's bills for a controversial state fire fee will be delayed due to a high number of challenges filed by property owners.

According to representatives with both the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the state Board of Equalization, the bills for the $150 State Responsibility Area fire fee will not go out in April as expected.

With about 87,000 petitions for reconsideration filed by homeowners affected by the annual fee, Cal Fire is sorting through claims of erroneous billing.

More than 70 percent of those complaints came from people who claimed the bill was an illegal tax and those claims were denied.

According to George Runner, a member of the Board of Equalization, which carries out the billing, some of the potentially erroneous bills camefrom inaccurate mapsof the billing areas known as SRAs.

"The state shouldn't be knowingly sending tax bills to anyone who doesn't actually owe the money," Runner said.

Local homeowners and mobilehome park residents have also reported myriad billing issues since Cal Fire first started sending out the bills. Some were double billed due to record gathering errors, while others have claimed to get second notices with penalties and interest applied despite never receiving their first bills.

The state has mailed approximately 825,000 bills as part of the first round of the new fees. The fee charges property owners living in rural SRAs $150 per year for each inhabitable structure on the property. Properties lying within a fire district receive a $35 discount.

The fee is supposed to go toward fire protection and fire prevention services in the SRAs, which are unincorporated areas of the state covered by Cal Fire firefighters.

Opponents are contesting the fee in court, saying the state is illegally imposing a tax without following the proper legislative procedure.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.