Jan. 17--Questions about the need for the city to charge a security and fire alarm registration fee led the Wilson City Council to delay the approval of new false alarm fees Thursday.
Councilman Tom Fyle asked city staff why the registration fees were necessary and Councilman Donald Evans said he did not remember registration costs as part of earlier council discussions.
"Why are we charging the fees in the first place?" Fyle asked. "Who gets paid and where does that money go?"
Grant Goings, city manager, said that staff was considering hiring a company to handle the registration process, which would include a percentage payment from the total amount collected. Cost estimates were not provided.
Evans asked if the fee could be added to Wilson Energy bills. Fyle said he liked the idea of having the registration process handled by city employees.
The registration fees are part of a proposed city ordinance that would fine people for repetitive false security and fire alarms. An initial registration fee of $15 would be required for anyone who has a fire or security alarm. An annual renewal fee of $5 is also being proposed. Failing to register could lead to a $100 fine.
False alarm fines are being considered because of the high number of calls to which police and firefighters are responding. A 2013 study found that 99 percent of the security alarm calls were false.
The fines, if approved, would be assessed during a 12-month period and do not include the first two false calls. Fines for false fire alarms are $500 for the third, fourth or fifth incident and $755 for six or more. Fines for false security alarms are $50 for the third, fourth and fifth incident, $100 for the sixth and seventh and $250 for eight or more.
Because of the questions and the need to explore alternatives for the registration fees, the council decided to table the ordinance until it meets in March.
"I'm questioning the need for it," Fyle said. "I'm questioning what they are going to be used for. In my opinion, when we go to a false alarm, you're kind of registering people anyway."
In other action, council members decided to approve a grant application that could lead to an increase in the Wilson police force. The city plans to apply for a Governor's Highway Safety Program grant that will pay 85 percent of the cost of adding five new officers to the traffic unit during the first three years. The city would be responsible for a 15 percent match and all costs after the third year.
Goings said that the city has held off on adding new employees for years because of the economy but a grant is one way of adding officers and a method that's been used in the past.
"I would never advise that you add the positions just because the grant's available," he said. "If it is your position that we need the positions, then this is the best way to do it because you get the first years covered."
The total three-year cost, between the state and city, is more than $2.9 million, with more than $1 million being spent during the first year for personnel and equipment. There are no equipment costs after the first year. The city's cost in the first year is $163,151, $260,266 in the second year and $453,855 in the third year.
Sgt. Steve Stroud presented an overview of crime statistics in 2013, most of which improved from 2012. One of the two most violent crimes, murder, decreased by 20 percent to four while the number of rapes increased. There were three reported in 2012 and five in 2013.
The most frequent crimes, larceny and burglaries, decreased in the city. In 2013, there were 75 robberies, a nearly 6 percent decrease; there were 138 aggravated assaults, a decrease of about 9 percent; there were 534 burglaries, a drop of 23 percent; 1,569 larcenies, a decrease of almost 3 percent; there were 91 motor vehicle thefts, which decreased by 18 percent; and 12 cases of arson, a decrease of more than 14 percent. Overall, these crimes classified as Part One crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, arson) fell 8.5 percent.