Since You Asked: Confusion abounds over Yuba County fire fee
Q: I live in Browns Valley, in CalFire jurisdiction, and pay a $115 tax even though we already pay the local volunteer fire department $200 a year. Do Marysville residents have to pay the same fee for CalFire services, too?
A: This new fire bill has people fired up. And no, Marysville residents don't pay it.
"There are two different things at work here," CalFire-Marysville Chief Mike Carr explained.
Passed in 2011, the new "Fire Prevention Benefit Fee" is now charged annually to homeowners where the state is responsible for fire services.
The full amount is $150, but those already paying a fire agency get $35 off.
An argument is brewing over whether it's a real fee or a tax in sheep's clothing.
Supporters say it's needed to reduce wildfires and fund arson investigations and prevention tactics. Opponents say it's a sneaky tax grab by a cash-strapped state.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association filed suit in October challenging the fee. In December, state Senator Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, introduced legislation to repeal it.
The toll replaces an $85 million CalFire budget cut from 2011, by generating about $88 million a year, CalFire spokesman Dennis Mathisen said.
"It's not our position to judge whether it's a tax or a fee," Mathisen said. "The law was passed as a fee and the fee-versus-tax issue will probably play out in the court system."
Mathisen said CalFire benefits state area residents, even when protected by another agency.
"A lot of people think their local district does everything, but that's just not the case," Mathisen said.
When wildfires grow beyond a local district's capability, CalFire sends in air tankers, bulldozers and handcrews. It costs money.
Marysville residents don't pay the bill. It's a different situation.
A city is responsible for its fire protection. Most use their own departments.
Marysville pays CalFire instead.
The city budgets about $1 million a year from the general fund for service. The contract began in 1997.
Marysville receives thousands in grant reimbursements each year. So, Carr said, the real cost of the CalFire-Marysville Fire Department is less — sometimes significantly less — than $1 million.
That's why Marysville doesn't pay CalFire at the same rate.
Since You Asked is published on Mondays. Send questions to reporter Rob Parsons at the Appeal-Democrat, 1530 Ellis Lake Drive, Marysville, CA 95901, email him at email@example.com or call 749-4785.