New state fire prevention fee creating controversy

Thousands of Kern County homeowners will have to pay a new annual fire prevention fee of up to $150 a year. The invoices are showing up in mailboxes across the county.

Thousands of Kern County homeowners will have to pay a new fire prevention fee of up to $150 a year. The invoices are showing up in mailboxes across the county.

According to Cal FIRE, the money will help prevent future wildfires. But, some local homeowners think the new fee is unfair.

Cal FIRE says the fee will pay for fire prevention services across more than 31 million acres of California and a little over a million acres here in Kern County.

Willard and Eilene Vanfossen have called Lake Isabella home for 30 years. "I want to be safe. I want my neighbors to be safe," explained Eilene Vanfossen.

26,500 homeowners in mostly rural Kern County are being hit with the new fire prevention fee.

"If it went to the proper place, I wouldn't mind paying for it. But, when someone goes out here and deliberately sets the fire, I'm not sure I want to pay for it," said Eilene Vanfossen.

The new charge will generate about $85 million a year for the State Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal FIRE.

The budget for Cal FIRE has been slashed by $80 million this year.

"This new fee helps provide a stable funding source for public safety for services that might otherwise be cut," said Daniel Berlant, Spokesman for Cal FIRE.

"Fire prevention is what actually helps prevent major wildfires," he said.

According to Berlant, every year, it costs more and more money to fight fires in our state.

"We understand these are some tough times for everybody, but we understand as well how vital these services are," noted Berlant.

There will be no new services in exchange for the fee. Assemblymember Shannon Grove is calling the new fee, illegal and unconstitutional.

"They passed it as a fee, but I believe it is a tax. It did not receive two-thirds vote requirement, so I believe it's unconstitutional and unfair," said Grove, (R) Bakersfield.

Some rural homeowners say the state is trying to make up for budget shortfalls.

"Most of the taxes that we have are unconstitutional. So what's the big deal?" said Steven Friend. "It's just part of living in modern America. The thieves get rich and the working schmuck gets fleeced like he's a little sheep."

You can enter your address to see if you have to pay the new fee at www.firepreventionfee.org.

Shannon Grove said you can sign up to fight the fee at www.firetaxprotest.org and join the class-action lawsuit.

Invoices will continue to arrive in mailboxes over the next few weeks. You have 30 days to pay. You will face penalties and fines if you are late.

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