A message to property owners from Briceland Fire Protection District Board President Gerald Meyers.
March 2, 2013
Property owners within the newly created Briceland Fire Protection District (BFPD), have now received their amended tax bill for the 2nd Installment of their property taxes for fiscal year 2012-2013. This installment is due April 10th. This revised statement includes a direct charge of $85 from the Briceland Fire Protection District. BFPD was created by the registered voters of the District in a special election held in August, 2012. At that time, District voters also elected a five-member board of District residents to administer this tax.
The $85 charge per Assessor Parcel for the fiscal year was authorized by the voters too late to appear on the normal tax bill, which was sent out very shortly after the election. This means the entire $85 for fiscal year 2012-2013 is now appearing on your 2nd installment. Beginning next year, the direct charge will be divided, with one half being placed on the 1st installment and the second half on the 2nd installment.
There is some understandable confusion between this direct tax, authorized by the BFPD voters when they approved the creation of the District, and the new ‘Fire Prevention Fee’, imposed by the California State Legislature in Sacramento.
The Fire Prevention Fee requires rural homeowners who have a house in a ‘State Responsibility Area’ (SRA) to pay a $150 annual ‘fee’ for fire prevention services. Because residents in the Briceland Fire Prevention District now live within a Fire District (which is also within an SRA), this fee is reduced to $110. This new fee, which most of us who live here consider a disguised tax (it is being challenged in court as such), was imposed one month before the new District was created, causing confusion about the two charges.
In summary: the $85 direct charge on your property tax bill is a tax, voted on and approved in August, 2012 by 85% of the voters residing within the District. It applies to all Assessor Parcels within the District boundaries that are not otherwise exempt. (See below for information on exemptions.)
The $110 Fire Prevention Fee was imposed by a State Legislature bill in July, 2012. By calling it a ”fee”, instead of a “tax”, only a majority vote of the Legislature was required to pass it, instead of a two-thirds vote that a new tax requires. The five-member Board of Directors of the Briceland Fire Prevention District oppose this “fee” and consider it a tax illegally levied on rural homeowners.
While Sacramento’s questionable “fee” is beyond the control of the Briceland Fire Protection District Board, be assured that the voter-approved BFPD parcel tax bill you’ve now received will go directly to and only to the Briceland Volunteer Fire Department to help protect our District’s residents. Like all Briceland Volunteer Fire Department’s firefighters, the Briceland Fire Protection District’s elected Board members are unpaid volunteers who donate their energy to the long hours this work requires.
How the BFPD Board worked out the charges
Early in December, 2012, the Humboldt County Assessor’s Office furnished the Board members with spreadsheets of all the parcels within the District, divided by Taxable Parcels, Public Owned Parcels (which are exempt from the District Direct Charge Tax), Non-Taxable Parcels (also exempt), and Segregated Interest Parcels (some taxable, some not). All 514 parcels were color-code mapped to a large District map as a cross check. All Public Owned Parcels, Non-Taxable Parcels and the non-taxable Segregated Interest Parcels were excluded from the ‘Charge List’ prepared by the District.
The voters approved two additional exemptions within the District – one for hardship and one for contiguous, undeveloped parcels with low fuel loading. At the December and January District meetings, the BFPD Board worked out the policy and procedures for these two exemptions and published the resulting Ordinance in the local Independent newspaper and online, here on the Briceland Fire website.
The Board contacted as many of the landowners as possible who would qualify for contiguous parcel exemptions and encouraged them to apply. Once the Board got as much done with these exemptions as time allowed, a ‘Charge List’ of Assessor Parcel numbers and fees charged was prepared and submitted to the County on February 13th, 2013, which resulted in you receiving the Amended Property Tax bill sent March 1, 2013.
This first Charge List will probably contain errors. As Board President and primary preparer of the Charge List, any errors are my responsibility and I pledge to work with any effected landowner to work out an equitable and fair solution. We are not far-away bureaucrats imposing taxes on you, we are your neighbors trying to administer a new parcel tax that a large majority of you voted for in order to support fire and local emergency services. That is my personal cell phone number on the pink slip attached to your bill.
The primary exemptions to the Briceland Fire Prevention District’s parcel tax are the Hardship Exemption and the Contiguous Parcel Exemption. There are additional exemptions as well and these will be explained below.
The Hardship Exemption allows landowners who fall within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines for very low or poverty level income to apply to the BFPD Board for an exemption from the tax.
The form contains the basic information needed to apply for this, and can be found in the link directly above.
This is similar to the County Assessor’s Office E21 Welfare Exemption. According to the list given to the Board by the Assessor, none of the parcel owners in the District claimed this exemption.
The Contiguous Parcel/Reduced Fire Hazard Exemption is for those who own more than one low-fire-hazard, uninhabited/structureless parcel. The Board and members of Briceland Volunteer Fire Department did specific outreach to the landowners who obviously qualified based on our map study, but we may have missed other qualifying landowners.
Another special exemption for multiple parcel landowners involves Williamson Act Agricultural Preserve Lands, though this is presently only available to one District landowner. This exemption is currently recognized by both the Hospital District and the Briceland Fire Protection District.
There are other possible exemptions from the BFPD parcel tax not specifically mentioned in Measure Z (the ballot measure which created the District). These exemptions include Disabled Veteran Exemption, Low Value Exemption, and Cemetery Exemption. Though normally requiring an application to the Assessor’s office to receive these exemptions, the BFPD Board has voluntarily recognized them by leaving qualifying parcels off the Charge List.
Lastly, there is a “loophole” for multiple, contiguous parcels that can be provided by the Assessor’s Office. If you own two or more contiguous parcels that have the same name on the Fee Simple Parcel Title, i.e. the legal owner of both (or more) parcels is identical, you can apply to the Assessor’s Office to have those parcels combined for assessment purposes only.
You wind up with one property tax bill under a new Assessor Parcel Number. This way, special districts that levy direct charges by parcel, and not by assessed valuation, will now only assess you once.
This does not affect any legal rights and does not involve the Planning Department or any other department. It is strictly an internal procedure of Assessor’s Office.
There is a one-time $65.75 fee per request. You can undo this in the future (for example, if you wish to sell one of the parcels) but it will cost you another $65.75. The form is called “Assessor’s Parcel Change Request” and is available by contacting the Assessor’s office at (707) 445-7663 or, toll free (866) 240-0485 or from me personally.
Special districts that presently levy a tax per-parcel include the Briceland Fire Protection District and the Hospital District. The Southern Humboldt Unified School District is considering a parcel tax as well. There are a number of property owners who can and should take advantage of this procedure as a matter of fairness and equity. I intend to contact those I have identified from map and spreadsheet work to suggest how this might work for you.
Finally, any exemptions you file between now and June 30th that are granted by either the District Board or the Assessor’s Office will be honored and made good the coming fiscal year, 2013, with the next Charge List. The tax bill your received for this year has to be paid as-is, even if you receive a future exemption.
I apologize for the long letter – the District is a varied bunch of landowners and situations. We are close enough to you to know you are all individuals and we intend to relate to you as people, not just ‘taxpayers’.
I appreciate your patience as we fine-tune this tax process. There has been a very steep learning curve involved in the complex process of District governance, taxes, exemptions, resolutions, ordinance creation and implementation.
The elected Board members of the District do not feel it is our job to extract the maximum amount of tax dollars possible from District landowners. Rather, it is our duty to administer the tax in the most fair and equitable manner possible, consistent with the measure passed by the voters and the
laws governing taxing-district bodies.
Please feel free to contact us with questions or concerns.
Briceland Fire Protection District