State ready to bill rural fire fees for Cal Fire services

In a move many fire officials say penalizes rural fire districts and the people they serve, the state is about to begin billing more than 825,000 residents a new $150-a-year fee for Cal Fire services.

The fee is part of a year-old legislative move to offset $80 million in Cal Fire revenue cuts over the past 18 months, shifting some of the burden for wildfire suppression onto those who live in wildland areas and creating a more stable funding source.

Lawmakers say residential development in rural areas raises the cost and difficulty of battling wildfires and means people who live in those zones benefit disproportionately from taxes paid for state fire suppression.

But critics, including the Sonoma and Marin county fire chiefs associations, say the fee unfairly penalizes those who already pay rural fire protection district fees, even though they qualify for a $35 discount.

Opponents also argue that the fee is a tax that requires two-thirds voter approval.

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