Florida county seeks increase in alarm registraion, renewal fees

Jul. 21--The cost of home security is going up in Palm Beach County.

Both the registration and renewal fees that thousands of home and business owners with alarm systems pay to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office each year are on the rise.

County commissioners are poised to approve Tuesday a 400 percent increase in the fee, from a $5 renewal charge to $25. Application fees to burglar alarm users will rise from $18 to $25.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and top county managers are seeking the fee hike -- the latest county move to shift the payment of some public services from property taxes to user fees.

Bradshaw contends the hike is justified, noting that what's now collected from the fee, about $500,000 a year, doesn't come close to covering what his department spends on its Alarm Enforcement Unit. In addition, he said, the fee has never increased in its 16 years.

Still, the potential new charges, which would go in place Oct. 1, are already causing a buzz among security company operators. Some alarm system managers are worried the fee hike will scare away new customers or irritate clients already reeling from homeownership costs like insurance and taxes.

"It's a good program but I'm not so sure they should be raising the charges for it," said Steve Rosenthal, general manager of a Sonitrol alarm system franchise that operates throughout Palm Beach County. "I don't think the public is going to like it too much. I don't think they'll be happy at all. I don't see why the increase should be happening."

More than 89,000 home and business owners, primarily in unincorporated Palm Beach County, pay the registration fee and will be subject to the hike, according to Assistant County Manager Vince Bonvento. Municipalities not served by the Sheriff's Office have their own fees and registration systems.

A few county commissioners have expressed cautious support for the fee hike.

"Right now, taxpayers who don't have alarm systems are subsidizing the costs for this program since the fees aren't covering all that it costs to register the alarms," said Commissioner Karen Marcus.

Commissioner Bob Kanjian said he hasn't made up his mind on the fee hike.

Commissioner Mary McCarty said increasing the fees would be "a fair thing to do" since the charges remain at 1992 levels.

The processing fees come on top of expenses paid by home and business owners for private monitoring companies to install, maintain and monitor for break-ins and panic calls. The alarm systems typically cost $800 to $1,000 to install, though they can be more expensive, depending on the type of system, size of a home and level of monitoring. In addition, private companies charge clients monthly fees for the service, typically $15 to $40, service providers say.

The county also charges penalties of about $250 to homes and businesses that have chronic false alarms.

The county's alarm enforcement program is no more than a registration system. It tells deputies who is responsible for the property where an alarm has been triggered, and the street address and other information associated with the alarm.

The systems work like this: When an alarm indicates a possible break-in, monitoring companies attempt to contact a home or business owner or other "key holder." If they have reason to believe that the alert is not a false alarm, they contact the Sheriff's Office. Deputies only respond if the alarm system is registered, unless there's an indication of trouble.

"If there's anything that has to do with a person possibly being hurt, we're going to respond no matter whether the alarm system is registered or not," Bradshaw said.