If you live in the unincorporated communities in the hills above Temecula, Murrieta, and Lake Elsinore, or other Riverside County areas, such as the San Jacinto Mountains, you are located in an area designated by the state as a “State Responsibility Area” for fire protection purposes.

As a result, you are likely to receive a new tax bill of $150 per home or inhabitable structure on your property within the next few months.

There is considerable controversy surrounding this fee (tax). I have authored legislation to repeal the fee (which failed), and have also supported the filing of a lawsuit challenging the legality of the fee itself.

I believe it is double-taxation on residents of Riverside County, who already pay property taxes to the county, which in turn contracts with CAL FIRE for fire protection, and that the fee as written and implemented will do little to make anyone safer, as not a single new firefighter will be added to a fire engine, nor will a single new fire truck, bulldozer or helicopter be purchased as a result of this new fee.

In the next few months, the California Board of Equalization will start sending bills to residents in those communities. Even if you share my opinion that this tax was illegally passed, you must comply with the law until such time as it is overturned by the courts (likely led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association). If it is indeed declared illegal, there will presumably be refunds issued.

In the meantime, there are likely to be inaccuracies and errors in many of the fire tax bills, as this is the first time the state has ever attempted to use this database. I recommend you look at your bill closely and be sure that you are being charged appropriately.

The tax is based on “habitable structures” in the SRA, and this is where the most errors are likely to occur. Are you being charged for a garage? A shed? A barn? If so, you will need to appeal your assessment. If you are currently paying a local fire tax (such as to Idyllwild Fire Protection District), you should be eligible for a discount on your new SRA tax, so be sure to check your bill for that as well.

While I dispute the legality and utility of this fee, I encourage you to comply with the fee until the courts overturn it, and to use the appeals process available to you to protest any incorrect assessments in your bill.

If you want to see if you live in the new tax area, maps of SRA areas, information on appeals, and other details about the fee program can be found on the SRA Fee website at www.bof.fire.ca.gov/sra_viewer/.

Kevin Jeffries
Assemblyman, 66th District