Millions of Dollars Designated for Fire Prevention Went Unspent

The money came from a controversial fee levied by Governor Brown four years ago that just recently brought on a class action lawsuit.

In total, there fund has roughly $43 million in unspent fire prevention money hanging around. The fire prevention fee that this money comes from affected more than 800,000 property owners in the state to a tune of about $117.33 per habitable structure per year.

While some state officials evoke prudency as the reason for the $43 million reserve, State Senator Jim Neilsen out of Tehama County offered up the idea that funds were being hoarded intentionally. Neilsen sits on the budget subcommittee that oversees CalFire.

In August, a Sacramento County judge elevated a lawsuit to class-action status with a trial date sometime next year. The lawsuit contends that the fee is an illegal tax and would eliminate the fee and the state would face refunds exceeding $7 million.

Nevada County Supervisor Hank Weston thinks the current balance in the fund reflects the fears of state officials that they may lose the case. Weston is a former CalFire unit chief and is also subject to the fire prevention fee. Contextualizing the situation, Weston said, “Statewide, they’re collecting $75 million (a year), during one of the worst droughts, in one of worst fire seasons, and the best thing would have been to add a bunch of inspectors. They didn’t do that.”

The full story on the unspent CalFire funds can be found here.


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