New law suspends the Fire Prevention Fee, what does that mean for Kern County residents?

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - The controversial fire prevention fee has been suspended, but what does that mean for Kern County residents?

23ABC's investigative team looked into where the money is going and how they will continue to fund the prevention programs now that residents aren't paying the fee. 

On Tuesday Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 398 The California Global Warming Solutions Act into law. 

Part of that new law suspends the fire prevention fee residents living in the State Responsibility Area (SRA) have to pay until 2031. 

For the past five years, Kern County residents living in the SRA have had to pay the $117 fee to Cal Fire. 

In total, Cal Fire was receiving nearly $80 million each year from fee-payers across the state.

That money would be used, in-part, for fire prevention grants aimed at cutting down dead trees, creating fuel breaks and prescribed burns. 

Fire departments throughout the state, including the Kern County Fire Department, would apply for those grants and Cal Fire would determine which stations received them based on need, total amount of fee payers and other factors. 

KCFD Chief Brian Marshall said Kern County is highly susceptible to wild land fires and stressed the importance of fire prevention. 

"Any hazard reduction, fuel modification, any type of projects that we're able to do to prevent the spread of fire and save structures, it's very important," he said. 

In the past, Kern County residents have sent Cal Fire nearly $3 million every year. Through grants, Kern County Fire was able to get back $300,000 to $500,000 each year.

"It doesn't make any sense. Why pay for something that you're not getting?" said Jim Griffin of Squirrel Valley.

The confusion surrounding where the fee money was going was another reason property owners were upset about having to pay it.

Those fee payers, however, will no longer be footing the bill. The funding will now come from the Cap and Trade funding.

Cal Fire said the money will now be brought in from the sale of credits for green house gas emissions.

The goal is to help prevent wildfires which will, hopefully, prevent more green house gases caused by large wildfires.

Though the funding may be changing, Cal Fire said the amount of money used for prevention work should be staying the same. Its continued goal is to keep the residents safe who are living in rural, wildfire-prone areas.

Officials with Cal Fire and KCFD said it is important for residents to continue to do their part to maintain defensible space around their homes.

Commonly asked questions

Why would we pay Cal Fire if there are no Cal Fire stations in Kern County?

Cal Fire contracts Kern County Fire Department to cover its responsibility area. 
In turn, Cal Fire pays KCFD each year for their coverage. Cal Fire and KCFD both said this is a win-win option because it saves tax payers money from having to pay taxes for two fire departments. Instead, residents only have to pay for one station. 

For those who have never paid the Fire Prevention Fee, do they still owe that money?

Yes. Cal Fire said these new changes only apply moving forward. Anyone who has received a bill and has not paid, still owes that money. 

Why did KCFD only receive $500,000 or less in grants? 

KCFD said it applied for grants and were happy with what they received. They said when applying for grants they have to consider which grant projects they can actually take advantage of and get done within the grant time frame. If they applied for more grants and more money, they wouldn't have had the staffing or supplies to get the prevention work done within the specific time frame. 

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