Forest assessment hits homeowners

Department of Forestry sends out Forest Patrol Assessment

March 10, 2018 — A number of property owners and homeowner associations in Florence have received an unexpected tax assessment for 2018.

The bill comes as a result of a Forest Patrol Assessment imposed by the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) which reclassifies land parcels that the state feels may need protection from wildfires.

The initial phase of the process for determining the needed scope of the assessment process began in 2016 and included a well-attended public meeting that September at the Florence Events Center.

ODF  Wildlife Fire Supervisor Tom Soward has oversight responsibility for the project and feels the work session at the FEC was important in beginning the dialogue with local property owners — many of whom are just now receiving confirmation of the change in their tax status.

“A year and a half ago we had the community meeting at the Florence Events Center to explain the Forestland Classification process that was taking place in all of Lane County,” Soward said. “At the meeting, it was explained to the attendees that as a result of the classification being done, that properties classified as ‘forestland’ would be protected from wildfire by the Oregon Department of Forestry.”

More than 5,700 property owners in Lane County, potentially affected by the forestland classification, were notified by mail in 2016 that the reclassification was underway and might affect their tax obligation.

Letters affirming the process and the assessment were required to be delivered by March 1 of this year.

Soward reports that a significant number of local residents will receive letters of reclassification.

“There are 355 addresses in the Florence area who received letters and are impacted by the assessment. There are others who live somewhere other than Florence, but own property in the Florence area who are also impacted,” Soward said. “No one should feel singled out in this process. We have sent out nearly 2,000 letters covering 2,300 properties that have not been participating in the support of the resources that protect property from wildfire. The majority will be required to pay the minimum fee of $18.75 per year.”

 Agricultural lands that are actively being farmed are excluded from this process.

ODF included a statement from Soward in letters to affected property owners explaining the rationale behind the reclassification process.

“The ODF has found there are properties in the district that are classified as forestland but not included in the current Forest Patrol Assessment,” Soward’s letter stated. “Property size does not determine the need for forest patrol coverage. If the property is located in an area that has vegetative growth that can carry a wildfire, during any time of year, it is a threat from wildfire and should be paying the Forest Patrol Assessment.”

The letter from Soward also addresses the issue of “dual assessment” by local fire districts, such as the districts of Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue and Mapleton Fire Department, which have coverage responsibility for rural areas and are supported by residential tax dollars.

“Many lands paying forest patrol are also inside rural fire districts and inside city limits. This however does not relieve the ODF or the landowner from the responsibility of protecting against wildfire,” Soward said.

The letter then went on to explain that while rural and city fire departments will respond to wildfires, those organizations are geared primarily for structural fires and emergency rescues.

Soward also mentioned that the ODF is equipped with or has access to special resources, such as aerial retardant planes, helicopters, heavy equipment and other agencies trained to specifically handle wildfire situations.

The ODF reported that for 2018, properties approximately 15 acres or less will be assessed the minimum charge of $18.75. Larger parcels will be assessed on a per-acre basis of approximately $1.17 per acre.

Property with buildings will be assessed an additional $47.50 surcharge to help finance the “emergency fire fund.” This fund is used for large, expensive fires, particularly in populated rural areas.

The total cost on minimum lots with an improvement is $66.25.

There is a formal appeal process available to property owners that would like to challenge the Forest Patrol Assessment. The appeal must be filed and received by the state forester no later than 30 days after the property owner has been notified of the assessment.

Any questions regarding the assessment, or on the process for filing a formal appeal, should be directed to Soward at 541-935-2283, ext. 237.

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