Monday, September 17, 2012

Opinion: Illegal fire tax bills arriving in the mail

This so-called fee was passed in 2011 to extract up to $150 per habitable structure from property owners. The tax will not provide any more fire protection and will actually make it harder for local fire agencies to raise the money they need to keep people safe. It’s a lose-lose proposition for the people in my district and for anyone concerned with public safety and the rule of law. - Senator Ted Gaines, guest columnist/AUBURN JOURNAL

This tax should have been subject to a two-thirds vote in the legislature just like every other tax, but the Democrats called it a fee to get around that requirement. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is planning to file a lawsuit disputing the fee’s legality and I hope it gets overturned as soon as possible.

Until that happens, though, the State Board of Equalization (BOE) has already begun mailing the first bills for the new fire tax this month and hopes to have all bills sent by December. The BOE has also begun mailing an advance notice to the affected property owners to warn them that the bills are coming, and to provide them with a brochure explaining the “fee.”

No matter how many mailers or explanations or warnings any agency sends out, it doesn’t make this tax any more right or more legal. It was, is and always will be a shakedown of rural property owners that takes their money every single year but gives them zero in the way of additional fire protection.

Letter: Humboldt County taxpayers urge citizens to visit - Clifford B. Chapman Sr./Executive Director, Humboldt Taxpayer's League
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association launched a new website to inform more than 800,000 homeowners across California how to qualify for a refund on the new fire tax.

The Fire Tax Protest site ◼ will serve as a one-stop resource for taxpayers who wish to protest the new fire tax, learn more information about their rights, or join a class action lawsuit to overturn what HJTA believes to be an unlawful tax.

”The fire tax is in direct violation of Prop. 13, and it represents an additional burden on rural homeowners who are already suffering in this economy,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “This new tax ... represents the worst of Sacramento -- taking more money from hardworking people for a program they were already paying for, to cover the politicians' budget gap. Today we (HJTA) are offering a new tool for homeowners to protest this new tax.”

The taxpayer group, supported by the Humboldt County Taxpayer's League, is preparing to challenge the tax constitutionally in court on the grounds it should have been subject to the two-thirds vote requirement in the Legislature.

Although taxpayers must pay the bill, the site ( ) shows how to protest the fee in order to be eligible for a refund. There they can sign up for free email bulletins that will keep them informed of the progress of the taxpayers' suit against the state of California. “It is our goal to help taxpayers get relief,” added Coupal. “We are committed to fighting these illegal taxes to ensure taxpayers have their day in court.”

The mailing of these illegal tax bills comes at a particularly bad time for three Humboldt County fire districts who are currently asking their residents to approve property assessments to support their volunteer department operations.
News: Residents react to fire prevention fee -

Challenging the Fee and Claiming a Refund -

You must pay your bill. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE DUE DATE. You may have fewer than 30 days to pay. If you are late, steep penalties and interest are compounded monthly. Moreover, the fee is a lien on your property, and failure to pay can result in foreclosure.

We at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association believe this fee is really an illegal tax under Proposition 13. We plan to challenge the constitutionality of this tax in court.

Should we prevail, the court may order refunds. To qualify for a refund you must have paid your bill and filed a “Petition for Redetermination” with the responsible agencies.

For convenience, we have posted the form below with the grounds for challenging the fee already filled in. Page 2 contains instructions for completing the form.

When you pay your fee, we recommend that you write “under protest” on the notation line of your check. Also, make a copy of the check so that you can enclose it with your Petition for Redetermination form, as proof of payment.

Although only one address appears at the bottom of the form, state law actually requires that you submit the form to three different addresses. You must submit it WITHIN 30 DAYS OF THE DATE OF YOUR BILL to the three addresses below:

Fire Prevention Petitions, P.O. Box 2254, Suisun City, CA 94585
Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, P.O. Box 944246, Sacramento, CA 94244
Board of Equalization, P.O. Box 942879, Sacramento, CA 94279

If you have further questions, click here. This will take you to the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of this website.

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