The time has come for many Ramona residents to pay the much disputed $150 "rural fire prevention fee" again, even while a class action lawsuit is underway that challenges the fee as an illegal tax passed unlawfully.
The fee is due to reappear soon (Sept. 25) in property tax bills for properties in unincorporated areas with residential dwellings, and is designed to help recoup some of the costs of fighting wildfires in blaze-prone regions.
Residents, legislators and taxpayer groups have called the fee an illegal tax, which was passed by the Assembly without the two-thirds vote necessary to levy taxes, and they say it amounts to double taxation.
The group leading the lawsuit, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, suggests that residents shouldn't protest the fee by not paying it:
"Be sure to pay your bill promptly when you receive it in the mail. Although the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has brought a class action against the State challenging the fire prevention fee, it is important that you pay your bill on time. Failure to pay the fee can result in heavy penalties and a lien on your property."
County Supervisor Dianne Jacob suggested writing "under protest" in the memo line of check.
Assemblymember Brian Jones weighed in on the fee soon after it was passed.
"This is nothing more than political sleight of hand and clearly does not pass Constitutional or ethical muster," Jones said. "It wrongly labels a 'tax' as a 'fee' and also double taxes residents by combining the new State Responsibility Area 'fees' with current local fire district assessments."
Sen. Joel Anderson and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors have also expressed opposition to the fee.
Cal Fire representative Dennis Mathisen told Capital Public Radio that the fee is necessary for a reliable wildfire prevention budget:
"The fire prevention fee actually provides a stable funding source for vital fire prevention activities that Cal Fire provides throughout the 31 million acres of state responsibility area."
A hearing for the lawsuit will be held Nov. 21 in Sacramento, but the state is attempting to have the case dismissed without the court hearing evidence. A ruling on the law suit is expected in 2014.
Go to FireTaxProtest.com for more information and a petition you can sign.