Clarence 'Buck' Weckman: If it looks like a tax and bills like a tax ...
Along with Christmas cards from family and friends, more than 5,000 Yuba County residents will receive untimely greetings from the state of California. Yes, the government is again helping you with a new fee/tax — and right before the holidays.
This so-called "fee" will be sent to homeowners in the Yuba foothills and mountain areas. The fee of $150 or $115, depending on the fire jurisdiction of residence, will be used to fund the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's fire prevention programs. But in reality, this new "fee," forced upon us by Gov. Jerry Brown and the tax and spend Democratic-controlled Legislature, is simply another bait and switch shell game. Remember the State Lottery and how it was going to solve funding for the California school system?
Starting to work as a firefighter with the California Department Forestry (now CalFire) in the early 1960s, I observed the evolution of our wildland fire protection problems. There can be no doubt; the influx of residential and other structures within our wildland areas vastly increased the difficulty of fire protection. In contrast, even with that clear and present danger, California Government chose to reduce CDF/CalFire's resources.
I can clearly remember the department's initial efforts introducing the concept of defensible space to area residents. We made home inspections with fire engine crews, fire patrolmen and fire prevention aids. Other fire prevention efforts, such as roadside signs, community outreach and fuel reduction was common place. But during the following years, California government cut engine staffing levels by half, eliminated the fire prevention patrolman, and even the fire prevention aid is now rarely seen. The fire prevention effort was reduced to insignificant levels. So where did the funding for these resources go? You, the taxpayer, were now paying for a service you were no longer receiving. Sound familiar; remember how the gas tax was only to be used for roads?
So what is the situation in Yuba County? A Public Records Act request resulted in the following information: the yearly average for home defensible space inspections is 300, power line clearance inspections are four and less than 200 hours each year is dedicated to fire prevention. The annual approximate fire prevention budget for Yuba County is $2,246. With more than 5,000 residences, and an additional unknown number of outbuildings and business and commercial structures, this effort is truly insignificant.
California government's answer is to tax us again and call it a fee. Statewide, this tax/fee will generate more than 84 million, in Yuba County more than a half million. Do the Yuba County math, from a current level of $2,246 to more than one half million, wow. Do you think we will get that amount of money spent here in Yuba County? In our dreams — more likely it will go to buy votes for Sacramento incumbent reelections.
Enter stage right; the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is filing a class action suit in our behalf. They will assert this is an illegal tax and not a fee as claimed by the Sacramento gold-digging politicians. This suit could result in a refund of your money. Go to their website, www.firetaxprotest.org, and learn what you must do to file an appeal. Initially you will get a form letter of denial, which are now being generated by the hundreds, but this will make you eligible for a refund if the Howard Jarvis Association should prevail. Don't fall for another shell game with your tax money. If you are going to pay a tax, you should get something for your hard-earned money.
Clarence “Buck” Weckman of Brownsville is retired. He served 33 years with the California Department of Forestry.