The state is starting to send out bills for fire prevention services to Santa Barbara County residents living in unincorporated areas. The 150-dollar fee was enacted by the state legislature in 2011, but some residents say they are learning about it for the first time.
The state says the fee covers residents who live in what are called SRAs, or State Responsibility Areas where CAL FIRE responds to fires. Residents that live in areas that overlap with local fire districts are eligible for a reduction and are only required to pay 115 dollars.
In early October, The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a class action lawsuit to block the fee which is being challenged on the basis that it is a tax and in violation of Proposition 13 which states a two-thirds majority is needed for it to be valid. CAL FIRE says its job is not to debate the fee, but to implement it.
The Montecito Fire Protection District adopted a resolution in August suggesting the fees are a burden to residents and do not directly benefit them. The District says CAL FIRE is charging the fee for services it already provides. CAL FIRE says education and prevention are a small percentage of what the money is used for. It says the money is not for new services, but to maintain current ones like brush clearance, creating defensible space, and forest health in Santa Barbara County.
The District says it conducts its own brush clearance and defensible space within its own boundaries. Both agencies say they continue to work together and have a good relationship despite a disagreement on this issue.