Although not $1 of the controversial Fire Prevention fee has been collected, Gov. Jerry Brown has plans for spending $50 million from that fee this fiscal year and $84 million in fiscal 2012-13.
This year, $50 million of funds will supplement the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s (CAL FIRE) regular budget. Collections are estimated to be $84.4 million. The additional $34.4 million will be kept in the fund and available for use in future years.
Neither the current year nor next year’s (2012-13) requests include funding for fire prevention grants for local jurisdictions and community groups such as fire-safe councils. While the legislation establishing the fee authorizes the grant program and specifies the uses, no regulations have been developed for its implementation according to Janet Upton, CAL FIRE’s deputy director for communications. In absence of approved regulations for the grant process, the state is not planning any funding for this purpose.
Staff for the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection is drafting permanent fee regulations, including a grant program, according to George Gentry, the board’s executive officer.
“Promulgation of the permanent regulations is still three to four months in the future,” Gentry said. The public can still provide the board with comments on how the grant program should be implemented.
For example, Gentry said he has heard arguments for funding good plans and also for funding projects on the ground for fuel reduction. Comments may be submitted via email to [email protected].
In fiscal year 2012-13 the governor proposes to use fee collections for a variety of fire prevention and suppression purposes. For example, nearly $6.6 million is allocated to the Board of Equalization to collect the fees. The cost to prepare maps delineating the State Regulatory Areas (SRA), where the fee is to be applied, for the board is included here.
State officials expect many appeals from SRA residents who believe their property might be exempt or for other reasons, according to Upton.
The two largest allocations — more than $28 million each — are for fire prevention and emergency fire suppression. In total, nearly $76.3 million is allocated to CAL FIRE’s 2012-13 budget.
“Fire protection work includes both suppression and prevention,” said Upton. “They are inextricably interwoven.”
CAL FIRE engine crews devote time to teaching fire prevention, fire dangers and protection to school children. The use of the crew and engine is assigned to a “Fire Control” account, Upton explained. Fuel and brush reduction are other activities that qualify as fire prevention, she added. “The resource management [account] is for fuel reduction and qualifies as prevention.”
Upton stressed CAL FIRE’s responsibility is ultimately to protect the SRAs and residents. Public safety is paramount. “The budget bill language provides for use of funds in extraordinary efforts to prevent the expansion of wildland fires,” she stated.
While Gentry said the fee would likely be on the board’s agenda for many months, the governor’s budget proposal suggests his administration is considering expanding the fee to include a per-acre charge.
“The Administration is continuing to evaluate the long term structure of the fee, including supplementing the fee with a per acre charge,” according to the CAL FIRE section of the governor’s 2012-13 budget.
Until the state actually bills SRA property owners, no fee revenue will exist. But once the collection notices are mailed, legal objections from throughout the state are likely to land in several courts, which will delay collections further, until the legality of the fire prevention fee is resolved.
|Fiscal year ($ in thousands)|
|Fire Prevention St. Operations||0||28,525|
|Fire Control St. Operations||50,000||6,781|
|Cooperative Fire Protection||0||4,009|
|Emergency Fire suppression||0||28,237|
|Total, St. Operations Fire Protection||50,000||70,801|
|Resource Protect & Improvement||0||2,264|
|Forest Practice Regulations||0||381|
|Forest Resource Inventory & Assess||0||1,114|
|Total, Resource Mgmt||0||3,759|
|Dept. Justice legal services||0||500|
|St. Board of Equalization||0||6,597|
|Cal Conservation Corps||0||1,500|
|Total other departments||0||8,573|
|Balance, for carry over||34,400||(476)|
|Prior year carryover||34,400|
|Carry over for next fiscal year 34,400||33,924|