California town reconsiders regulation of alarm systems

Oct. 9, 2008
Pittsburg City Council to reexamine annual alarm fees for homeowners, businesses

Call it a false alarm.

After an ordinance aimed at regulating alarm systems drew criticism from some Pittsburg residents last month, city leaders have decided to take another look at the plan.

City staff and elected leaders received negative feedback after a Sept. 16 City Council vote approving an ordinance requiring current and future alarm owners to pay an annual registration fee of $65 for residential alarms and $95 for business ones.

Given the financial struggles many are having, "we didn't want it to turn into a financial burden or place an undo hardship on residents," police Chief Aaron Baker said.

"We don't want anybody turning off their alarms because they can't pay the fees," he said. "It's more important for us to have working alarm systems than for someone to turn off their alarm completely."

Pittsburg will look at the proposed fee structure again, gather more community input, and talk to the alarm companies and other interested parties, Baker said.

Councilman Ben Johnson said that after voting for the ordinance, he took another look at the document and had questions about the collection of fees, the process of determining false alarms, and who would levy fines. He, like his colleagues, received calls and answered questions around town from concerned residents and alarm companies.

Mayor Will Casey said he agreed with complaints he heard, adding it was "pretty hard to justify why the registry fee should be annual."

"We figured we should bring it back and take another look," he said.

The ordinance would have set a fine of $250 for each false alarm from an unregistered alarm system. Registered owners would not have been penalized on the first two false alarms each year but would have incurred a $250 fine for each additional false alarm.

Currently, owners are fined $100 for the first false alarm, $150 for the second, and $250 for each additional violation within the same year.

Councilman Michael Kee, the only vote against the ordinance, doesn't expect to change his position with a revised plan. His concerns are mainly about the plan's implementation, though he also is against the annual charge and the plan's timing.

"It may seem like a small amount, but for some, that could really stretch their budget," Kee said.

Police department staff time and resources are frequently wasted responding to activated alarms when no emergency exists, resulting in unnecessary spending of city money, Lt. Wade Derby said last month. The ordinance was sought to allow Pittsburg to license and regulate alarms, track them, and contact the owner of a triggered alarm, he said.

The hope is that the registration information could be placed into a real-time database so officers could quickly contact home or business owners. About 90 percent to 92 percent of the city's alarm calls were false in the past year, Derby said.