Anita Phillips is one of thousands of Inland Empire residents receiving notices that a newly-instituted $150 fee is coming due. If all chargeable homeowners pay the fee, it'll raise more than $123 million for fire prevention in areas controlled by the state. Philips says she understands the need for the funds, but the charge comes as she's struggling to modify her mortgage. Craig Fiegener reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Oct. 24, 2012.
Across California, some 825,000 residents are receiving notices about the state's new Fire Prevention Fee. Creation of the charge was no secret, but many people had not heard about it until this week.
"It's very shocking," said Anita Phillips, of Crestline, who received the letter a couple days ago.
Residents are being asked to pay $150 to cover the cost of fighting fires in heavily wooded areas where the state is responsible for fire prevention. But for Phillips, it comes just as she's struggling to modify her mortgage.
Some residents say it's the wrong time for unexpected bills, especially in the Inland Empire, where people are trying to recover from a badly-beaten economy.
Without question, Crestline is an area that has faced terrible fire threats. The Governor signed the Fire Prevention Fee law last July to help battle fires in areas similar to Crestline.
The language in the new law reads this way: "The law established a new annual Fire Prevention Fee to pay for fire prevention services within the State Responsibility Area. This fee is assessed on owners of habitable structures."
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association considers it such an unfair levy that it plans to fight the fee in court. Others see it as a worthwhile expense.
"We need it," said Crestline resident Bridgitte Nowakowski. "Firefighters are here to help us keep our homes so they don't burn down. So what is $150? That's nothing."
If everybody pays it, the fee will raise more than $123 million. Phillips says she doesn't like what she sees as heavy-handed language in the letter.
"Well yeah, not be so demanding, and say they will foreclose on our homes if we don't pay and impose a 20 percent penalty if we don't pay," she said.
For now, the Fire Prevention Fee is state law and it's coming due. At least until a judge says otherwise.