County delays fire agencies fee increase

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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors accepted the Fire Mitigation Fee Review Committee’s annual report for Fiscal Year 2018-19 and found that the participating fire agencies were in conformance with the County Fire Mitigation Fee Ordinance, but a planned increase was deferred.

The supervisors’ 5-0 vote Sept. 15 maintained the existing fee schedule, approved the resolution for capital expenditures for the fire mitigation fee revenue, and accepted the Fire Mitigation Fee Review Committee’s annual report for Fiscal Year 2018-19. The fire mitigation fee for non-agricultural construction had originally been scheduled to increase from 58 cents per square foot to 75 cents per square foot, but due to the hardship on businesses the coronavirus shutdown has caused a fee increase was deemed inappropriate.

The fire mitigation fee is paid by developers to fund the cost of fire department facilities serving the new development. The county established the Fire Mitigation Fee Program in 1986 to provide funding for fire protection and emergency medical services in the unincorporated communities. Although local fire agencies lack the legal authority to impose mitigation fees on new development, the county collects a fee from building permit applicants on behalf of 13 independent fire protection districts. One fire protection district was dissolved during Fiscal Year 2018-19 and is included on the annual report, and latent fire protection powers were removed from three water districts during Fiscal Year 2019-20 and those three districts will appear on next year’s report as well as this year’s. One county service area with fire protection responsibility (a second county service area was dissolved during Fiscal Year 2018-19 with two neighboring fire protection districts taking over responsibility). The mitigation fees are distributed quarterly to agency accounts and must be used for capital projects or to purchase fire-fighting equipment or supplies which will serve new developments.

The Fire Mitigation Fee Review Committee reviews the annual reports of the participating agencies to confirm that the improvements are necessary to serve new development. The committee members consist of two fire chiefs (currently Fred Cox of the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District and Joe Napier of the Valley Center Fire Protection District), one elected director of a fire protection district, currently Ken Munson of the North County Fire Protection District, one County Service Area staff member, one San Diego County Fire Authority staff member, and one representative apiece from the Building Industry Association (currently Matt Adams), the San Diego County Farm Bureau (currently executive director Hannah Gbeh), and the county’s Planning Commission (currently David Pallinger).

The County Fire Mitigation Fee Ordinance allows fee ceilings to be increased or decreased in proportion to changes in the Cost of Construction Index. The ordinance also requires an evaluation of the base fee every five years based upon dividing the average cost in current dollars to construct a fully-equipped fire station within the county’s unincorporated area by the average square footage of structures served by that average fire station. That result becomes the new base fee and was last adjusted in October 2014 and thus became effective for the 2015-16 fees.

In 2015 the estimated average cost to construct a new fire station was $322 per square foot. The updated estimated average cost to build a new fire station including permits is $5,269,250 and the average size of the 18 most recent fire stations is 5,600 square feet, which creates an average cost of $941 square foot. The average fire station serves 2,934 dwelling units, so the cost per dwelling unit is $1,796 and based on the average new dwelling unit size of 2,400 square feet the average cost for a new fire station is $0.75 per square foot.