An Express Article from the California Land Title Association
Bulletin 12/13-25 - August 30, 2012
The State Legislature last year passed fire fee legislation as part of a last-minute budget compromise. The legislation, AB X1 29, was passed with less than a 2/3 vote. The legislation permitted assessing fire fees on property in designated fire zones, referred to as State Responsibility Areas. The agency responsible for collecting those fees, CalFire, has now begun the process of billing property owners, resulting in some confusion over whether or not the fee is actually a lien. More detailed information on the bill passed last year was contained in a CLTA News Express article linked here.
A bill this year to repeal the fee, SB 1040, is tied to a measure to raise revenue by changing a corporate tax formula (AB 1500). AB 1500 requires a 2/3 majority to pass and a 2/3 vote is unlikely. So it is likely the fee will remain the law unless successfully challenged in court.
The new fee law required that on or before September 1, 2011 the State Board of Equalization (BOE) adopt emergency regulations establishing the fee on each structure within a state responsibility area. The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) was required to assist in administering this program. CALFIRE has already developed regulations regarding who is subject to these fees, the amount of the fees, and an appeal process relating to its implementation. These regulations can be found on the CALFIRE website. The fee will be collected by the BOE in accordance with the California Fee Collection Procedures Law. The new law does permit a petition for redetermination as to whether the fee applies to a particular property.
An unpaid fee can become an enforceable state tax lien but it is not effective against persons acquiring an interest prior to recording of the notice of state tax lien in the office of the county recorder of the county in which the real property is located. To what extent the state will record county-by-county tax liens for the $150 fee is unknown. A notice must be posted at the offices of the county recorder, county assessor, and county planning agency that identifies the location of the map identifying the assessment areas and of any information received by the county subsequent to the receipt of the map regarding changes to state responsibility areas within the county.
The Jarvis Taxpayers Association has publically stated that they will challenge the fees as being in violation of Proposition 26, which requires a 2/3 vote for any legislation related to such fees. The enacting legislation, AB X1 29 passed in August of 2011, was not passed by a 2/3 vote.