California Farm Bureau files petition on water fees
» February 12, 2004 «
The California Farm Bureau Federation is challenging new annual water fees on thousand of farmers, charging that they are unlawfully imposed taxes. Joining the state federation as co-petitioners are 53 county Farm Bureaus and eight individual water rights holders. The petition, asking for reconsideration of the imposition of the fees, was filed with the State Water Resources Control Board.
The new fees were created in the passage of state Senate Bill 1049 last October. When the legislation took effect on Jan. 1, nearly 13,000 holders of permits or licenses to divert water, including those who lease water, began receiving bills in January from the State Board of Equalization.
"The fee schedule was created by the State Water Resources Control Board and set so that the total amount of fees collected would equal the amount needed to fully fund the operations of its Division of Water Rights," said CFBF Associate Counsel Carl Borden.
For the second half of fiscal year 2003-04, that amount is $4.4 million, of which $670,000 goes to cover the State Board of Equalization for billing and collecting the fees.
"These new fees are for dam safety inspections and fire protection in state responsibility areas," said Borden. "The law also imposes a $100 five-year registration renewal fee for small, domestic livestock ponds."
"This new fee is unnecessary, unlawful and expensive to impose on farmers," said Borden. "The board will undoubtedly deny our petition for reconsideration. We will then file a petition for a writ of mandate with the Sacramento County Superior Court. We believe the fees are, in fact, unlawfully imposed taxes and that the court will agree with us."
Farm Bureau and other organizations strongly objected even before the state water board adopted the so-called "fee" schedule. According to Borden, Farm Bureau pointed out that the law requires a relationship between fees charged and benefits received by those who foot the bill.
"Article XIII A of the California Constitution, which was added by Proposition 13, requires legislation resulting in new or increased taxes be approved by a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature," Borden said. "As that requirement was not met, the resulting charges are invalid."
Farm Bureau's petition asks that the state board reverse its decision and return the fees paid by farmers with applicable interest.
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