Council committee votes to charge fees for all false alarms

Members of a key City Council committee agreed that rather than charging residents and businesses an annual fee for owning a burglar alarm, a better way to recoup the estimated $800,000 the city spends annually responding to false alarms would be to start charging a fee for every false alarm.

Under the ordinance in place now, alarm owners are charged a $200 fee beginning with their third false alarm. The fee for each false alarm thereafter increases by $100. Members of the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee voted at their Feb. 28 meeting to approve an ordinance that would charge residents a $30 fee for their first false alarm. Along with paying that fee, alarm owners would be required to register their alarm with the city. The second false alarm would incur a fine of $100 and the fine for each false alarm thereafter increases by $100.

The new revenue generated by the registration fee and fines would be a little more than $308,000. That new revenue, combined with the $394,000 the current false alarm program is expected to generate in 2007, would almost cover the estimated $750,000 in costs the city is expected to incur responding to false alarms this year.

The measure takes a different approach than an ordinance the committee originally considered that would have created an annual alarm system registration fee of $15 for residents and $40 for businesses. That fee would have applied to all burglar alarm owners, regardless of whether they ever had a false alarm.

&#8220I think we all were uncomfortable with charging a fee to those who had never even experienced a false alarm,” Council Member Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) said at the meeting.

Council Member Cam Gordon (2nd Ward), who had expressed concerns about charging resident and businesses a fee for simply owning a burglar alarm, said the revised ordinance seemed like a compromise worth trying.

&#8220This seems like a better solution to me,” Gordon said, adding that he is still concerned about charging residents too many fees.

City officials estimate that there are close to 30,000 burglar alarm systems in Minneapolis.

Deputy Director of Licensing and Consumer Services Ricardo Cervantes said the number of false alarms in Minneapolis has steadily dropped since the city started charging a fee in 2002. That year there were more than 21,000 false alarms, a number that dropped to roughly 15,000 in 2006. Still, he said, the city needs to raise awareness among residents about how much false alarms cost the city each year.

&#8220They take too much money out of our precious resources,” Cervantes said.