Fire fighters to demonstrate for new electricity tax

Circles show coverage areas of 13 proposed fire stations that the Cuerpo de Bomberos says have high priority. Six are on the Pacific coast. Graphic: Cuerpo de Bomberos

The nation’s fire fighting agency, the Cuerpo de Bomberos, is poised to open 32 stations in the next 10 years. The only problem is money.

That is why the fire crews will be demonstrating at the Asamblea Legislativa today in support of bill No. 17881 that would impose a 1.75 percent tax on all but the smallest monthly electrical bills.

The measure is important to some expats who live in areas distant from fire stations. This problem is seen in Guanacaste and the Osa and Nicoya peninsulas. Among the proposed fire stations are ones at Uvita, Cóbano, Puerto Jiménez, Monteverde, Nandayure and Tamarindo.

Some expats in the north Pacific have been fighting local fires because professional help is 30 to 45 minutes away.

A statement from fire fighters said that residents in communities like Los Chiles, Puerto Jiménez or Bribrí might have to wait two hours for a response because the nearest fire station is 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos has been detached from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros as part of the rearrangement to open the national insurance market to private firms. But the fire agency still gets 4 percent of each insurance policy sold in the country.
The new tax is designed to raise about 8.5 trillion colons a year, about $17 million. The agency said this is enough to construct three new stations a year and provide equipment and maintenance.

Electric customers who use 100 kilowatt hours or less each month would not be taxed. That’s about 22 percent of the population, said the agency. A big industrial operation that pays a monthly power bill of 129,242 colons would also pay a 2,262-colon tax, said the Bomberos. The draft of the bill says that the tax would not be subject to the nation’s sales tax.

Some 22 legislators signed on to the bill. It was presented in October 2010. Firemen said that today they will present nearly 1,800 letters from community groups in support of the tax. Fire fighters want the bill to get initial approval from the full legislature.

There may be some bad news. A summary of legislative actions said that the bill just was sent back to a committee. This would delay passage or even kill the measure. The current legislature is not particularly friendly to new taxes.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos now has 66 stations and officials hope to have 98 by 2020.

The demonstration today is supposed to be at 2:30 p.m. Motorists probably should avoid Avenida Central at Cuesta de Mora south of the legislative complex at that time

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