HOUSE BILL 2104
State of Washington 57th Legislature 2001 Regular Session
By Representatives Rockefeller, Sump, Pearson and Doumit
Read first time 02/14/2001. Referred to Committee on Natural Resources.
AN ACT Relating to funding for forest fire protection; amending RCW 76.04.167 and 76.04.610; and adding a new section to chapter 76.04 RCW.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:
Sec. 1. RCW 76.04.167 and 1995 c 151 s 1 are each amended to read as follows:
(1) The legislature hereby finds and declares that:
(a) Forest wild
fires are a threat to public health and safety and can cause catastrophic
damage to public and private resources, including clean air, clean water, fish
and wildlife habitat, timber resources, forest soils, scenic beauty,
recreational opportunities, economic and employment opportunities,
structures, and other improvements; ((
and that it is in the public interest
to protect forests and forest resources by preventing and suppressing forest
(b) Forest landowners and the public have a shared interest in protecting forests and forest resources by preventing and suppressing forest wild fires;
(c) A recent independent analysis of the state fire program considered it imperative to restore a more equitable split between the general fund and forest protection assessments;
(d) Without a substantial increase in forest protection funds, the state's citizens will be paying much more money for emergency fire fighting; and
(e) It is therefore the policy of the state that the costs of fire protection be equitably shared between the forest protection assessment account and an equivalent state match to ensure that there will be sufficient fire fighters who are equipped and trained to respond quickly to fires in order to keep fires small and manage those large fires that do occur. The legislature declares that immediate increases in the state's equitable share for forest protection are necessary to stabilize the funding for the forest protection program, and that sufficient state funds must be committed to the forest protection program so that the recommendations contained in the 1997 tridata report can be implemented on an equitable basis by the end of the 2005-2007 biennium.
(2) The legislature hereby finds and declares that it is in the public interest to establish and maintain a complete, cooperative, and coordinated forest fire protection and suppression program for the state; that, second only to saving lives, the primary mission of the department is protecting forest resources and suppressing forest wild fires; that a primary mission of rural fire districts and municipal fire departments is protecting improved property and suppressing structural fires; and that the most effective way to protect structures is for the department to focus its efforts and resources on aggressively suppressing forest wild fires.
(3) The legislature also acknowledges the natural role of fire in forest ecosystems, and finds and declares it in the public interest to use fire under controlled conditions to prevent wild fires by maintaining healthy forests and eliminating sources of fuel.
Sec. 2. RCW 76.04.610 and 1993 c 36 s 1 are each amended to read as follows:
(1) If any owner of forest land within a forest protection zone neglects or fails to provide adequate fire protection as required by RCW 76.04.600, the department shall provide such protection and shall annually impose the following assessments on each parcel of such land: (a) A flat fee assessment of fourteen dollars and fifty cents; and (b) twenty-two cents on each acre exceeding fifty acres. Beginning in 2001, the amount of the assessment will increase from twenty-two cents per acre to twenty-five cents per acre for each acre in excess of fifty acres, so long as the amount of the state's equitable share of forest protection funding is increased and maintained at the level established in section 3 of this act. If the legislature fails to fund the state's equitable share for forest protection in accordance with section 3 of this act, the three cents per acre increase authorized in this subsection for each acre in excess of fifty acres is null and void during the time period that the state does not fund such share. Assessors may, at their option, collect the assessment on tax exempt lands. If the assessor elects not to collect the assessment, the department may bill the landowner directly.
(2) An owner who has paid assessments on two or more parcels, each containing fewer than fifty acres and each within the same county, may obtain the following refund:
(a) If all the parcels together contain less than fifty acres, then the refund is equal to the flat fee assessments paid, reduced by the total of (i) fourteen dollars and (ii) the total of the amounts retained by the county from such assessments under subsection (5) of this section.
(b) If all the parcels together contain fifty or more acres, then the refund is equal to the flat fee assessments paid, reduced by the total of (i) fourteen dollars, (ii) twenty-two cents for each acre exceeding fifty acres, and (iii) the total of the amounts retained by the county from such assessments under subsection (5) of this section. If the amount of the assessment under subsection (1) of this section is twenty-five cents per acre for every acre over fifty acres, then the amount of the refund reduction provided under (b)(ii) of this subsection is twenty-five cents rather than twenty-two cents for every acre exceeding fifty acres.
Applications for refunds shall be submitted to the department on a form prescribed by the department and in the same year in which the assessments were paid. The department may not provide refunds to applicants who do not provide verification that all assessments and property taxes on the property have been paid. Applications may be made by mail.
(3) Beginning January 1, 1991, under the administration and at the discretion of the department up to two hundred thousand dollars per year of this assessment shall be used in support of those rural fire districts assisting the department in fire protection services on forest lands.
(4) For the purpose of this chapter, the department may divide the forest lands of the state, or any part thereof, into districts, for fire protection and assessment purposes, may classify lands according to the character of timber prevailing, and the fire hazard existing, and place unprotected lands under the administration of the proper district. Amounts paid or contracted to be paid by the department for protection of forest lands from funds at its disposal shall be a lien upon the property protected, unless reimbursed by the owner within ten days after October 1st of the year in which they were incurred. The department shall be prepared to make statement thereof, upon request, to a forest owner whose own protection has not been previously approved as to its adequacy, the department shall report the same to the assessor of the county in which the property is situated. The assessor shall extend the amounts upon the tax rolls covering the property, and upon authorization from the department shall levy the forest protection assessment against the amounts of unimproved land as shown in each ownership on the county assessor's records. The assessor may then segregate on the records to provide that the improved land and improvements thereon carry the millage levy designed to support the rural fire protection districts as provided for in RCW 52.16.170.
(5) The amounts assessed shall be collected at the time, in the same manner, by the same procedure, and with the same penalties attached that general state and county taxes on the same property are collected, except that errors in assessments may be corrected at any time by the department certifying them to the treasurer of the county in which the land involved is situated. Assessments shall be known and designated as assessments of the year in which the amounts became reimbursable. Upon the collection of assessments the county treasurer shall place fifty cents of the total assessments paid on a parcel for fire protection into the county current expense fund to defray the costs of listing, billing, and collecting these assessments. The treasurer shall then transmit the balance to the department. Collections shall be applied against expenses incurred in carrying out the provisions of this section, including necessary and reasonable administrative costs incurred by the department in the enforcement of these provisions. The department may also expend sums collected from owners of forest lands or received from any other source for necessary administrative costs in connection with the enforcement of RCW 76.04.660.
(6) When land against which forest protection assessments are outstanding is acquired for delinquent taxes and sold at public auction, the state shall have a prior lien on the proceeds of sale over and above the amount necessary to satisfy the county's delinquent tax judgment. The county treasurer, in case the proceeds of sale exceed the amount of the delinquent tax judgment, shall immediately remit to the department the amount of the outstanding forest protection assessments.
(7) All nonfederal
public bodies owning or administering forest land included in a forest
protection zone shall pay the forest protection assessments provided in this
section and the special forest fire suppression account assessments under RCW
76.04.630. The forest protection assessments and special forest fire
suppression account assessments shall be payable by nonfederal public bodies
from available funds within thirty days following receipt of the written notice
from the department which is given after October 1st of the year in which the
protection was provided. Unpaid assessments ((
shall)) are not (( be))
a lien against the nonfederal publicly owned land but shall constitute a debt
by the nonfederal public body to the department and (( shall be)) are
subject to interest charges at the legal rate.
(8) A public body,
having failed to previously pay the forest protection assessments required of
it by this section, which fails to suppress a fire on or originating from
forest lands owned or administered by it, ((
shall be)) is liable
for the costs of suppression incurred by the department or its agent and (( shall))
is not (( be)) entitled to reimbursement of costs incurred by the
public body in the suppression activities.
(9) The department may adopt rules to implement this section, including, but not limited to, rules on levying and collecting forest protection assessments.
NEW SECTION. Sec. 3. A new section is added to chapter 76.04 RCW to read as follows:
(1) The legislature finds that it is critical to begin implementing the recommendations contained within the 1997 tridata report regarding forest fire protection. It is the purpose of this section to establish a mechanism that provides full funding for implementation of these recommendations by the end of the 2005-2007 biennium. It is the further intent of the legislature that the costs of implementing these recommendations should be shared in approximately equal amounts between forest landowner assessments and the state through an equivalent match.
(2)(a) The legislature finds that the appropriate amount of funding that should be provided by the state as its share for forest fire protection for the 2001-2003 biennium is fourteen million seven hundred seventy-seven thousand dollars. This level of funding constitutes the base year amount for purposes of this section. The base year amount is established at a level that restores the funding for the fire program back to its current level while providing some needed enhancements.
(b) The legislature finds that the appropriate amount of funding that should be provided by the state as its share for forest fire protection for the 2003-2005 biennium is an amount equal to the base year amount, plus an additional one million five hundred thousand dollars.
(c) The legislature finds that the appropriate amount of funding that should be provided by the state as its share for forest fire protection for the 2005-2007 biennium and for future biennia is an amount equal to the base year amount, plus an additional three million dollars.
(d) Nothing in this section requires the state to provide more funds for forest fire protection than the amount provided by forest landowner assessments pursuant to RCW 76.04.610.
(e) This subsection is not intended to operate as an appropriation.
(3) After the 2005-2007 biennium, the forest fire advisory board established under RCW 76.04.145 is responsible for reviewing the adequacy of the department's forest fire protection program and recommending to the legislature the amount of funding necessary to maintain the program at the level established for the 2005-2007 biennium. The board may include a proposed increase in forest landowners' assessments under RCW 76.04.610 as part of its recommendations.
(4) If the state does not provide funds for forest fire protection in the amounts established by this section, no additional liability is created against the state and no additional duty is imposed upon the state for forest fire protection.
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