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Jerry Brown seeks to expand, revamp fire fee

September 2, 2011 |  3:33 pm

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The fight over firefighting fees is again heating up in the Legislature.

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to revamp and expand a fire fee enacted this summer on rural homeowners, proposing to raise the levy on homes, as well as to tack on a new per-acre fee for land in fire-prone backcountry areas.

The original fire fee, enacted in this summer’s state budget, was to be $150 per structure, of which there are more than 700,000, in fire zones that state firefighters protect.

But a state board capped the fee at only $90 and added rebates for owners in certain areas, wiping away much of the $50 million in budget savings the administration had counted on.

Now, last-minute legislation supported by Brown and unveiled Friday would “supersede that,” said Department of Finance  spokesman H.D. Palmer.

The bill, SB 1X 7, would set the new fee at $175 for the first dwelling on a property and $25 for each additional habitable structure. Those living in areas where they already pay local fire fees -– an estimated 94% of residents, Palmer said –- would get a $25 rebate.

In addition, backcountry owners would have to pay a new a $1 fee annually per acre for the first 100 acres of their property in a fire zone, 50 cents for each of the next 900 acres and 25 cents for every acre after that. The total acreage fees could rise as high as $3,000.

Critics have called the original fee, which was passed by Democrats over Republican objections, an illegal tax and have threatened to sue. On Friday, Republicans announced legislation to repeal it, though they don’t have the votes to do so.

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento

Map of state fire zones from the Board of Forestry