The Board of Supervisors Tuesday set a Sept. 21 public hearing to consider the Riverside County Fire Department’s request to attach fire mitigation charges to the tax bills of nearly 600 property owners, who officials say have not paid the cost of abating weeds and other potential fire hazards around their parcels.
The board’s 5-0 vote on scheduling was preceded by a complaint from Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, who told fire officials he had been waiting “five years” for a change to the department’s appeals process in the case of mistakenly imposed charges.
“There have been cases in the past where it was not the actual property owner who was abated, but a party with a parcel next to them,” Jeffries said. “So the wrong parcel was cited in the assessment. There hasn’t been an appeals process for an improper assessment. What’s our status?”
Several officials from the Office of the Fire Marshal assured Jeffries that the agency would begin working on amendments to the current process to ensure errant assessments are dealt with prior to reaching the board. The proposals will be introduced to the board for consideration in the coming months, the officials said, to Jeffries’ satisfaction.
According to the fire department, 567 property owners countywide are delinquent and owe a total $289,953 under the county’s Fire Hazard Reduction Program. The amounts stem from activity in calendar year 2020.
The reduction program involves deploying contractors to clear weeds and related overgrowth that might otherwise fuel brush fires during wildfire season, which generally spans May to November. In most cases, the parcels that were mitigated were vacant or set off from main residences, according to the fire department.
Officials said property owners were served with orders to abate, or mitigate, the potential fire hazards, and when inspectors received no reply or saw that no action had been taken, landscaping contractors were sent to the locations under fire department authority to clear away the excess foliage.
“The purpose of the Fire Hazard Reduction Program is to reduce or eliminate fire hazards created by vegetative growth and the accumulation of combustible debris, which poses a danger to the health, safety and welfare of the residents in the vicinity of any real property, as well as irreparable harm to sensitive habitat and species,” according to an agency statement.
Properties in each of the five supervisorial districts have been identified by the fire department as delinquent on payments.
According to agency documents, property owners were billed to recover the county’s expenditures, which ranged from $384 to $3,454 per property. A $254 administrative fee was also folded into the final bill sent to the property owners.
The charges would function as tax liens on the properties.
During the Sept. 21 hearing, all those who received assessment notices will have an opportunity to challenge them and ask the board for relief.
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