Crowd unhappy with state fire fee

Mary Bullwinkel

Beacon Correspondent

A large number of Humboldt County property owners are not happy about receiving a notice from the state regarding a $150 fire prevention fee. A crowd of approximately 150 people gathered last week at the Van Duzen Grange in Carlotta to get more information.

Incoming Humboldt County 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell helped organize the meeting, and was pleased to see such a large turnout. "I have received a lot of calls about this, since the notices were sent out," she said. "This is something we are really, really concerned about."

"Pay the bill, and then file a protest," said Chuck Ciancio, a landowner and semi-retired forester. "If you don't pay the bill in a timely manner, the state will impose late penalty fees," he added. The late penalty is 20 percent plus interest, and then is compounded monthly. The amount needs to be paid within 30 days of the date on the bill, not the date the notice is received in the mail.

There is also an option of making payments, where the landowner can make an initial payment of whatever they can afford and include a note outlining how much will be paid each month.

"Keep a paper trail," Ciancio said. "Keep a copy of everything."

"This is a tax, without the approval of a vote of the people," said Humboldt Taxpayers League Executive Director Cliff Chapman. He and Humboldt County First District Supervisor Rex Bohn told those in attendance that a lawsuit against the fee is being contemplated.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association plans to challenge the constitutionality of the tax in court, but has not yet filed a lawsuit. Property owners in attendance complained about the state. A website (www.firetaxprotest.org) has been set up for concerned landowners who would like to protest the fee.

The website recommends that landowners pay the bill, write the words "under protest" on the notation line of the check, and then file a petition for redetermination. The website recommends landowners make a copy of the check and enclose it with the petition for redetermination, and send it to Fire Prevention Petitions in Suisun City, and the Board of Equalization and Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, both in Sacramento.

Carlotta resident Tim Strahan was one of those attending the gathering at the Grange and he said, "Politicians are taking a tax and calling it a fee ... it's just politicians wasting our money." Lifelong Humboldt County resident Tim Wilson attended the gathering to "see what I can do about protesting the tax."

The audience was also asked to not let their unhappiness with the State Fire Prevention Fee to affect their support of local volunteer fire departments. Supervisor Bohn said "The biggest thing is, don't stop supporting your local volunteer fire department ... it's not their fault."

Fortuna Fire Protection District Chief Lon Winburn said anyone needing help filling out the paperwork or having questions about the state fee can call the fire department for assistance at 707-725-5021. He added, "While the concept of fire prevention is one we should be aware of and support, this fee will only manage to have an extremely negative effect on the local fire agencies that provide primary response to their communities emergencies if they, due to this tax, lose the support of those residents."

Photo by Mary Bullwinkel/Beacon

Incoming Humboldt County 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell speaks about the state Fire Prevention Fee to the crowd gathered at the Van Duzen Grange in Carlotta. Seated (far left) is Cliff Chapman, executive director of Humboldt Taxpayers League, and landowner Chuck Ciancio.

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