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Good news for Fire Tax Fee protesters

Is the Fire Tax fee really legal or is it an illegal tax under Proposition 13? That is still the question that thousands of California rural property owners and the Howard Jarvis Association are still asking.

The group has challenged the constitutionality of this tax in court on behalf of Californians, who are encouraged to file a petition in protest if they want a potential refund.

To qualify for a refund if they win, California residents must have filed a “Petition for Redetermination” with the responsible agencies and must have paid their bill. It was also recommended by the group that owners write “under protest” on the notation line of their check when paying the bill.

Originally property owners were told they must submit their petition each year and within 30 days of the date of their bill to the address as directed on the form.

A petition can be found on Firetaxprotest.org. For those with no computer or internet, visit the local library for assistance as their computers are available for use by the general public.

This year the Howard Jarvis Fire Tax Protest group has informed property owners that, petitions now need only to be filed once to receive a refund if the group wins. According to their latest email, “The Court has confirmed that people protesting the Fire Tax only need to file one timely Petition. If we win that timely Petition will make you eligible for refunds for the first year you filed and all following years. If you did not protest the Fire Tax the first year you paid it, you may still be able to protest it, according to the group."

Correspondence with the Board of Equalization and CalFire has indicated that a “Petition for Redetermination” may be submitted to protest all the years the Fire Tax has been paid.

“The staff persons with whom we corresponded may not be the final authority on this question, but according to them you may check all the boxes on the form for the years you have paid. Please note that Petitions for Redetermination must still be postmarked within 30 days of the date on your bill,” the email explains. “Petitions received outside of this time period may be considered invalid. If you have any uncertainty about whether you filed a timely Petition the first year you paid the Fire Tax, you may submit a Petition the next time you receive your bill and check the boxes for all the years you paid. Updated Petitions for the 2015-2016 billing cycle are available on our website at www.FireTaxProtest.org.”

The Howard Jarvis Fire Tax Protest mailing address is 921 11th Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Reason for the petition

Article 13A, section 3(a) of the California Constitution, as amended by Proposition 26, reads: “Any change in state statute which results in any taxpayer paying a higher tax must be … passed by not less than two-thirds of all members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature.” Section 3(b) then defines “tax” to mean “any levy, charge, or exaction of any kind imposed by the State,” unless it fits one of five listed exceptions.

Public Resources Code section 4214(d) specifies the activities to be funded with revenue from the fire prevention fee. Other than item 4 (“inspections by the department for compliance with defensible space requirements around structures”), none of the activities listed qualifies as an exception to the two-thirds legislative vote requirement for a “tax” in section 3(b). (Even as to item 4, many parcels subject to the fee will not be inspected.)

Therefore, the bill imposing this levy (ABX1-29) needed two-thirds legislative approval to become law. It received only majority approval. The entirety of the bill, and thus the entirety of the fire protection fee levied thereby, is unenforceable.

Public Resources Code section 4124(d)(1) and (e) require the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to use fire prevention fee revenue to make local assistance grants to counties and special districts to fund local fire prevention activities. Yet article 13, section 24 provides: “The Legislature may not impose taxes for local purposes but may authorize local governments to impose them.” For this additional reason, the fire prevention fee is invalid.

 

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