New Rural Fire Fee Looks Like a Stealth Tax to Residents

Carolyn Olsen of Oak Hills is not happy. She's a Republican who voted for Jerry Brown and she's starting to feel bad about it.

"They're going to raise our taxes because we live in a fire zone," shouts Olsen to nobody in particular.

Olsen’s new place sits in a part of San Bernardino County considered a fire-prone area and cash-strapped California will now require rural homeowners like Olsen, who rely on state firefighters, to pay a $150 annual fee.

That's right, it's a fee, and not a tax, but it sure looks like a tax to Olsen and others who are finding out about the change.

State spending on fire protection has grown to a billion dollars over the past decade, mostly because of development in rural areas, which explains the logic of state budget writers. Or not. San Bernardino County Supervisor Neil Derry sees it differently.  He calls it a stealth tax.

"It's going straight to the general fund," says Derry, who wants to find a legal justification to fight the fee.

But for now, fee or tax, it's on the books and residents may have to pay it. But they feel like they're the ones getting burned.

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