City Council weighs changing policy on burglar alarm fee

November 25, 2003|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Responding to angry e-mails, letters and phone calls, the City Council is rethinking a program that charges residents a $20 annual burglar alarm fee.

Councilwoman Helen L. Holton introduced a bill last night that would make the fee a one-time charge instead of annual. Under the plan, businesses would continue to pay the yearly fee -- and anyone would face fines for repeated false alarms.

The bill was referred to the taxation committee for study.

"The outcry has been so strong from the citizens of Baltimore," Holton said.

Eliminating the annual fee could cost the city millions at a time when its Police Department is spending about $5 million a year responding to false alarms, city officials said.

The annual fees and fines are projected to generate $3 million a year, a figure city officials characterize as a "guesstimate." They did not know how much revenues would fall if the annual fees are dropped.

The change also could give the private company administering the program grounds to break its contract with the city -- or sue, because its compensation is based on the amount collected, city officials said.

The company, ACS of Dallas, could argue that it hired employees and incurred other expenses based on the original revenue projections, city staff warned council members at a luncheon yesterday.

In April last year, the council passed a law with registration fees for security systems and fines for repeated false alarms.

City police said about 97 percent of the 129,000 alarms reported last year were false.

Complaints began recently when ACS started sending bills. Under its five-year agreement with the city, ACS receives a share of the fees and fines collected, up to $600,000 a year.

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