Massachusetts town increases alarm fees, penalties

GREAT BARRINGTON -- More than 200 times during the past fiscal year, the town's police and fire departments raced to respond to a potential fire or break-in, only to find nothing more than a faulty alarm. And with a newly passed resolution, town officials hope that starts to happen a lot less.

The Board of Selectmen recently approved an increase in the fine for false alarms, raising it to deter the rising problem and cover their expenses.

The registration fee for alarm systems increased from $10 to $25 and the previously nonexistent charge for first-time false alarms has been increased to $50, with subsequent false alarm charges rising from $60 to $100.

"The previous fine ... was abominably low," said Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell. He said the fine increase was needed to make up for funds needed for wear and tear to equipment and the efforts to mobilize responders.

The fines do not pertain to alarm calls related to burned food or other similar objects where there is smoke, said Fire Chief Harry Jennings. He said the vast majority of finable false alarms relate to poorly maintained security systems in commercial settings.

Jennings said that with no fine for first calls under the previous system, there was no incentive for people to properly maintain their systems. He hopes the new fines can help reverse that or at least pay for lost expenses.

"Either we're going to cut down on these false alarms that have really gotten out of control for the police and fire departments or we're going to increase revenue," said Jennings.

According to a executive summary of the fee change, the town would have generated an additional $17,460 of revenue during fiscal 2008 if the new system had already been in place.

Jennings added that there are 482 registered alarm systems in the town, but anticipates there are many more which are not registered and said that finding those alarms is the next step to decreasing false alarms.