Proposal seeks to change city alarm fees

Bill would pass on cost to monitoring companies

January 13, 2004|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Lucy L. Glenn has protected her East Baltimore townhouse with a burglar alarm for nearly 20 years. But new city-imposed fees for such systems have her feeling robbed nonetheless.

"I have to buy my medicine, I pay my taxes and I pay my mortgage," said Glenn, 72, of North Aisquith Avenue. "I pay $37 a month for the [burglar alarm] monitoring and now I have to pay a $20 registration fee?"

The law, which took effect late last year and drew protests from alarm customers, says she has to pay. But City Councilwoman Lisa Joi Stancil introduced a bill last night that proposes to pass along that fee to burglar alarm companies that monitor security systems.

"The people who can best afford this are the companies who are making money doing business with the citizens of Baltimore," Stancil said yesterday.

In April 2002 the council enacted a law that requires registration fees for security systems and imposes fines for repeated false alarms. The intent was to reduce false calls while offsetting the Police Department's cost of responding to them.

In 2002, city police responded to about 129,000 burglar alarms. Nearly 97 percent of those, or 125,000, were false, a rate mirroring national statistics. At an estimated $40 per call, the city spent $5 million on false alarms.

The company hired in July to administer the program, ACS of Dallas, began notifying alarm companies late last year that they must register with the city and provide the addresses of their customers. ACS began billing those customers for registration fees and fines in October. There are an estimated 44,600 residential owners and nearly 7,000 business owners with security systems, according to the Police Department.

Alarm owners have been crying foul over the law ever since, complaining that the fines and fees are too steep.

"People are just bonkers over this," Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector said. "People thought their confidentiality was being violated."

The annual registration fee for alarm customers is $20. Alarm companies pay $50 to register annually. Companies that do not register will be fined $1,000. Fines to residential and commercial users kick in after the first two false alarms. Fines for residential users range from $50 for the third false alarm to $1,000 for the 14th. Businesses pay as much as $2,000.

Criminal citations are also possible for excessive false alarms - after civil remedies have been exhausted. Stancil's bill aims to strike any criminal punishment from the law. It would also eliminate fees charged to residents with unmonitored security systems that do not trigger responses from police or alarm companies.

Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. said the bill had originally proposed no fees on residential customers. But during hearings about the bill in early 2002, alarm companies turned out in force and successfully argued against having to cover their customers' registration fees.

Mitchell said the council will study Stancil's bill. But he added that the council is in a Catch-22.

"The companies will pass along the fee to the consumers and blame us," Mitchell said. "We're going to get blamed for it one way or the other."

That's right, said Glenn.

"I'm going to have to pay it one way or the other," she said. "I'm just going to turn it off and buy myself a shotgun."

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