The State Board of Forestry has until Sept. 1 to adopt emergency regulations to implement Assembly Bill 29, which authorizes a $150 fire prevention fee. The board has scheduled a special meeting for Aug. 22 to discuss and consider the regulations necessary for the fee. Meanwhile, other state agencies, such as the Department of Finance and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, are developing technical changes to the law.
Currently, Idyllwild property owners, despite the presence of the Idyllwild Fire Protection District, would be subject to the fee. IFPD already applies a $65 unit fee to county property tax assessments. In the Aug. 30 mail-in election, IFPD is asking voters to authorize increasing the cap to $130.
The state levy is a fire prevention, not a fire protection, fee, emphasized George Gentry, the board’s executive director. This is a major concern to the finance department, H.D. Palmer, deputy director of external affairs, said Tuesday.
On Friday, he discussed some of the possibilities that may be considered at next week’s meeting and their impact on Idyllwild. The board has 180 days after adopting emergency regulations to adopt permanent rules for the fee’s implementation.
“The intent of the legislation is the fee generates money for fire prevention,” Gentry said. “We recognize that some fire protection districts provide fire prevention.”
Fire prevention priorities will be recognized for community fire safe councils, communities with a Community Wildfire Protection Plan and with local fire districts, according to Gentry.
Another point Gentry emphasized was that the fee was up to $150. “It doesn’t say ‘shall be $150’,” he stated. Some areas might pay a higher fee and some may pay a lower fee depending upon the extent of their fire prevention efforts within that area, he added.
“The fee is of some undetermined amount the [Forestry] Board might like to see or make it relevant to the community, like Idyllwild,” Gentry said.
He also said the board might use some of the funding for grants to local fire safe councils for fire prevention activities such as creating defensive space, sheltered fuel breaks or evacuation plans.
While the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council might benefit from these grants if Gentry’s ideas were adopted, Edwina Scott, the agency’s executive director, expressed mixed feelings. While she said a grant would be beneficial, she was concerned that residents would view the fee as a tax for fire safe councils.
Palmer said the administration is working with local fire officials and legislative staff to draft technical changes in the law’s language. “The biggest reason is it says the fees are designated for fire prevention and can’t be used for fire protection, which is what the bill intended,” he said. He anticipaes the proposed amendments will be announced within the next two weeks.