California town gets tough on false alarms

ARCADIA - Alarm system users will be required to pay a $40 annual permit fee and face stricter fines for false alarms.

The new fees are designed to discourage false alarms - which made up 97 percent of the 2,600 alarms police responded to last year - and to help recoup the estimated $453,000 annual cost they place on city services, Arcadia officials said.

The City Council voted 3-2 last week to set the annual fee. Council members also reduced the grace period from three to two false alarms per year and raised penalties for all subsequent false alarms.

The city now will charge $100 for a third false burglar alarm in a 365-day period, $200 for a fourth, and $300 thereafter.

"I don't think anyone disagreed with upping penalties for chronic abusers," said Mayor Robert Harbicht, who voted for the resolution.

But since the City Council first mulled the idea in May, a point of greater contention has been the annual permit fee.

"It's essentially a cost-recovery mechanism," Harbicht said, defending the fee. "Police resources are being taken away from the rest of the community. Those who have alarms are the ones who are causing this to happen. I just felt like an annual fee is appropriate."

Council members Peter Amundson and John Wuo, who voted against the resolution, do not believe the permit fee is fair.

"If a small percentage of people have false alarms, and everybody pays the annual $40 fee, to me it is not right to the residents," Wuo said. "I just have difficulty charging people ... when they didn't do anything wrong."

The permit fee also pays for false alarm tracking and billing services, including the creation of a database of the city's estimated 4,000 to 5,000 alarm users. The council separately approved a contract with Public Safety Corporation for such services at last week's meeting.

"It shouldn't cost that kind of money to monitor who has alarms in our city," Amundson said. "The alarm fees should not be looked at as a revenue source. We have a right to recoup our costs, but $40 is excessive."

According to City Manager Don Penman, the city still needs to execute its contract with PSC, which in turn must first build the database of alarm users before billing can begin.

"The fee hikes would go into effect at the same time," Penman said. "It could be a couple months."