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State May Modify Controversial Fire Prevention Fee

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Aired 8/15/11

A controversial wildfire fee passed by the state legislature to help balance the budget could be up for discussion again this week. But legislators may not be able to modify the measure to allow the money to be used for fire protection.

The governor’s office says it wants to amend the $150 per household fee on rural residents because the money is designated for fire prevention rather than fire protection. That means it can’t be used to fight fires, only for programs like brush clearance.

Ron Peterka of Intermountain Volunteer Fire and Rescue said if the law had been written differently, it would have benefited his rural fire protection area around Ramona.

“If we were to take that fee of $150 from the 500 people here in our response area, that money would come up to about $65,000,” he said, ”That would be enough to cover almost our entire budget.”

Peterka said he’d love to see the fee go to fire protection but he’s not optimistic.

“The reason they put it up as fire prevention is so it was not put out as fire protection, “ he said, “and if they put it out for fire protection, then it looks awfully like a tax and they would need a two thirds majority to get it passed.”

Even the fee for fire prevention could be in trouble. San Diego County is among several counties threatening to sue the state if it goes ahead with the plan. A County spokesperson said they are waiting to see how the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection decides to administer the fee on August 22.

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