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California is assessing homeowners who live in vulnerable, fire-prone areas a fee to cover the cost of fire protection services, including very expensive suppression of wild fires. It’s about time someone acted to place the cost of protecting vulnerable properties on those who own them.
According to several sources in California, bills for a new annual fire-protection fee impacting more than 800,000 Californians start going out on Monday, August 20, 2012. The fee is projected to raise about $84 million for fire prevention efforts. It was passed by Democrats in the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year. The annual charge could cost homeowners up to $150, but most will get a $35 discount if they already pay a local fire protection tax.
Vulnerability can be determined before construction begins on new developments and single home sites. If someone chooses to build where fire protection is almost certain to be costly, that builder/homeowner should expect to pay for costly fire response services. Those who live in flood plains are required to carry more expensive flood insurance, so why not the same for fire.
The State and Federal Governments are carrying the cost of suppression of major wildland fires, and all of us are paying the bill through our taxes. When FEMA disburses funds in response to a Presidentially-declared disaster, the cost is shared by the entire nation of taxpayers. In some cases, disasters are somewhat unpredictable. In the case of California residents, the vulnerability is clear from the first attempt at site development.
In the private sector, we plan for disaster recovery, and we pay for it. Why should vulnerable properties and their owners/developers not do the same? Fire apparatus and personnel are expensive. The ranks of volunteer fire departments are diminishing. Paid, professional firefighters are needed, and they are not free. Some insurance companies may charge higher rates in fire-prone areas, but that money doesn’t reach municipal fire departments. It could. Fire departments should be allowed to bill each property owner in vulnerable areas for suppressing a fire, a fee that could be covered by insurance. That way, insurance payouts would be to fire departments the same as they might be to building contractors who repair homes damaged by fire.
Why should the government and the taxpayers continue to subsidize vulnerable properties?