As you may recall from a previous blog post, the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) considered multiple proposals during the interim that would expand Montana’s fire preparedness fee (which is currently a voluntary assessment western landowners have placed upon themselves) to all landowners across the state. With only a two-point majority, the Council voted to introduce legislation that would place a base fee per parcel on all land in Montana, excluding cities, while an additional fee would be placed if the parcel contains forested land or a dwelling. If passed, these fees would amass to one-third of the wildland fire protection preparedness appropriation or $6 million, whichever is less.
These funds would be used strictly for fire-preparedness purposes, such as firefighter training, equipment purchases and maintenance, and fire detection and prevention. $1 million of the collected fees would be allocated towards an aviation equipment replacement account, and any unspent or unobligated funds from the prior fiscal year would be transferred to that account on September 1 of each year.
While the intent of this bill may be to make the current fire funding system more equitable, it fails to accomplish that goal. The fact a landowner who has acquired 40 acres comprised of four 10-acre parcels will pay four times as much in wildfire preparedness fees as an adjoining landowner who owns one 40-acre parcel is a very clear example of this. Even so, assessing a fee by acreage disproportionately discriminates against Eastern landowners who have a lower likelihood of fire on their land. You can find the entire bill draft language here.
Montana Farm Bureau members recognized this and the many other inequities the proposal creates at Annual Convention and passed policy that strongly opposes a statewide mandatory fire-preparedness assessment fee. Montana Farm Bureau lobbyists will be closely monitoring this legislation and will be working to keep it from becoming law. Watch the blog for more Legislative updates!