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A state board re-filled with new Governor Jerry Brown appointees approved a $150 fire fee Wednesday on rural homeowners this fiscal year, continuing the drive by the Governor to raise $50 million from those residents.
Brown and Democratic lawmakers authorized a maximum $150 fee as part of the June budget agreement. But the fire board in August approved a smaller $90 fee that contained as much as $65 in credits that could have reduced the fee to as low as $25 for some property owners. The least a property owner would pay under the new plan is $115.
After the board's action in August fell well short of what Brown had expected, the Governor pushed for a new bill in the final days of legislative session that would have imposed a $175 fee. But Democrats who represent rural areas joined Republicans in opposing Brown's new bill.
After his efforts to pass a higher fee failed in the Legislature, Brown appointed four new members to the nine-person board in late October, all Democrats. One new appointee, Susan Britting, a Coloma biology consultant, advocated for immediate action on the higher fee and ultimately made the motion that passed on a 6-2 vote. The Governor's appointments adviser, Nettie Sabelhaus, and his natural resources secretary, John Laird, were on hand for the final vote.
Under the approved plan, most property owners will receive a $35 discount for living in a fire district; an estimated 90 percent of structures qualify for that savings. But their remaining fee, $115, will still be significantly higher than what rural property owners would have paid under a plan the state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection passed in August.
An estimated 800,000 structures in rural areas, including homes and office buildings, will be subject to the fee. The state is responsible for wildfire prevention and protection in those areas, and the Governor said this summer that suburban growth on formerly rural lands had driven up costs for the state.