East County residents complain about state fire fees

Assemblyman Brian Jones calls fee 'illegal tax'

EL CAJON, Calif. - Some local homeowners and a local assemblyman sounded off about a fee they are being forced to pay after losing their homes to wildfires.

Assemblyman Brian Jones (R-Santee) said California's State Responsibility Area (SRA), or fire fee, is the top issue said his constituents are complaining about.

"I think it's for the birds," said Boulevard resident Mary Stewart. "I mean, why are they charging the country people a fee and no one in the city is paying it?"

Stewart, who lost her home September 23 in the Shockey fire, told 10News when she called Sacramento to complain about the tax she got no sympathy.

"Nothing but greed," she said.

More than 100,000 homeowners in San Diego County pay the fee, which was established in 2011 to pay for fire prevention services in the SRA. Each homeowner is charged $150 per year for habitable structures in the zones that were established years ago to protect California's watershed.

Jones said the fee is an illegal tax, because it was passed by a majority vote when it needed a two-thirds majority. He told 10News the fee is wrong on many levels.

"Number one, they're already paying property taxes that are supposed to provide these services; number two, a lot of these folks live in a fire district that they pay additional taxes for to have the fire department nearby to service their homes. And then the principal of the matter: this is an illegal tax for things that is a basic function of government that they should already be doing. This isn't for service. Saving your home and family is not a fee for service; it's what the government is supposed to do," Jones said.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson explained the difficulties of following the law while using SRA lines that were drawn "without ever being intended for use as a billing mechanism."

Hutchinson said Cal Fire is constantly trying to work within the SRA boundaries, while trying to consider homeowners like Stewart.

Jones said there are several efforts under way in Sacramento to repeal the tax.

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