Sound off on fire tax by phone

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat /

A member of the California Board of Equalization will hold a series of special conference calls for members of the public who want answers about a controversial state fire fee that affects many rural property owners.

George Runner, who represents District 2 of the tax board, will hold the first of multiple telephone conference calls at 6 p.m. Tuesday to update the public on the issue of the state's Fire Prevention Fee approved in 2011.

Tuesday's conference call is meant for residents of El Dorado, Calaveras, Alpine and Amador counties, though anyone in the public can participate.

Runner is expected to hold a conference call for residents of Tuolumne County in the near future, according to his office. Participants will get an update on the second round of bills for the fire fee, ongoing legislative efforts to overturn the fee, an active lawsuit and other updated information.

Those interested are asked to register by today at boe.ca.gov/townhall or by calling 916-445-3032.

The $150 annual fire fee is directed at property owners in regions known as "state responsibility areas" - unincorporated parts of the state covered by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighters. Property owners are charged for each habitable structure, with those located in a fire protection district given a $35 discount for each structure.

The state sent out its first round of bills late last year and early this year, and the process ran into myriad issues. Residents in mobile homes and manufactured houses were double billed around the state because of errors in record gathering. A number of local mobilehome park residents also claimed to get second notices with penalties and interest applied despite never receiving their first bills.

The state also received tens of thousands of protest claims over the fee, and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is currently suing the state to overturn the fee, claiming it is actually an illegal tax.

Cal Fire and the Board of Equalization announced in April the state is delaying the second round of bills, though no update on the status of the bills has yet been announced.

11901052
The Union Democrat
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