Chief claims IFPD parcel owners pay less tax for fire services; auditor-controller’s records show that’s not true

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By JP Crumrine, News Editor and Jack Clark, Co-publisher

In a recent interview, Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz told the Town Crier that property owners outside Idyllwild Fire Protection District were paying much more in taxes for basic fire and emergency medical services than those within IFPD.

For those in non-IFPD areas, the chief said, a county fire tax is “hidden deep” within the 1-percent property tax on their county property tax bills. And those charges are much more than the current IFPD $65 annual parcel-fee tax — or even the proposed $130 annual parcel-fee tax, if voters pass Proposition W, the chief said.

Asked whether parcel owners within IFPD, in addition to their parcel fee, were paying that county fire tax like everyone else, the chief said they were not. He said parcel owners within IFPD do not pay the county tax for fire services that is hidden within the property tax bills of property owners outside IFPD.

But it turns out there’s a lot more to it than that. And this should be of interest to renters, as well as to property owners because, of course, landlords pass on their property taxes to their renters in their rent charges.

The Town Crier has examined records from the Riverside County auditor-controller’s office, records that are available to the public online.

Yes, Hill property owners outside IFPD do have a portion of their property tax payment — about 6 percent of it (averaging tax-rate areas outside IFPD) — distributed by the county to “County Structure Fire Protection.” And no property owners inside IFPD have any of their property-tax payment going to that purpose.

But the chief did not mention that property owners inside IFPD have a portion of their property tax payment — about 13.23 percent of it (averaging all 21 tax-rate areas inside IFPD) — distributed by the county to “Idyllwild Fire Protection.” And property owners outside IFPD have none of their property tax payment going to that purpose.

IFPD currently gets about $1.2 million per year from the property taxes paid by property owners within the IFPD.

But the larger and even simpler fact is this:

By California law, everybody pays 1 percent of their assessed property value to the county in property taxes, wherever you live. Regardless of how the tax money is distributed by the county, we all pay that same 1 percent. So, you’re going to pay 1 percent of your assessed property value in property tax, no matter where you live and no matter how that 1 percent gets distributed by the county.

The difference is this: For property owners outside IFPD — including Pine Cove, Mountain Center and Zone 3 — their basic fire protection and emergency services are included within their 1-percent property tax. But not for property owners inside IFPD. Property owners inside IFPD pay their 1-percent property tax plus an additional tax for their basic fire protection and emergency services — $65 per year as a parcel-fee tax, which will double to $130 per year if Measure W passes next week. (Vacant lot owners would see their IFPD parcel-fee tax quadrupled from $32.50 to $130.)

The simple bottom line: 1 percent plus IFPD’s parcel fee tax is more than 1 percent.

Of course, wherever you live, you still pay additionally for ambulance transport to a local hospital — probably around $3,000, depending upon the distance to the hospital to which you are taken. A portion of that may be covered by insurance, if you have it.

But for basic fire protection and emergency services, those with property in IFPD pay the parcel-fee tax in addition to the 1-percent property tax that every Hill property owner pays.

EDITED Nov. 3, 2016, 10:53 a.m., as follows: Number of tax-rate areas in IFPD corrected from 20 to 21. Average percentage of property tax payments going to IFPD in each of the 21 IFPD tax-rate areas corrected from 13.7 percent to 13.23 percent. These corrections will be noted in next week's print edition of the Town Crier, as well. -JHC

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