After about an hour's worth of discussion Tuesday, borough council came to a compromise on the manager's proposal to amend the alarm ordinance.
Security system owners will have to register their devices with the borough or face a fine, but the initial one-time registration process won't cost the residents anything. Per council's request, fines imposed on repeat false alarm offenders will increase and be tiered based on the number of violations.
Currently, the borough does not require its residents to register their alarm systems -- although 2,550 have -- and while $65 fines are imposed after two warnings, they are not tiered based on the number of violations.
Boiled down, the compromise penalizes false alarm activations more harshly, but doesn't touch the pocketbooks of security system-owning taxpayers whose devices are in compliance.
John Cosgrove was the first councilmember to articulate the compromise, which was supported immediately by the rest of council.
"I don’t want to penalize people and charge them a fee for something that I think is good," said Cosgrove, a longtime volunteer firefighter with firsthand experience responding to false alarms. "But I’m definitely in favor, if they don’t register, we fine them. And I’m definitely in favor -- as someone who’s gotten up in the middle of the night four times, five times to go to the same house over and over because their alarm keeps going off -- of fining them until they get their alarm fixed."
Councilman Kurt Peluso agreed, adding that he supported heavily fining violators, but thought implementing a registration fee might deter residents from protecting their homes.
"I don’t want anyone who’s on the fence about getting an alarm to back out because there’s a registration fee," said Peluso, who proposed doubling the fines for excessive false alarms. "I think we should encourage as many residents as we can to get it."
Shifting the burden of handling the fines and related paperwork associated with false alarms from the police department to a third-party biller should free up the police force to deal with more pertinent security matters.
"It takes the onus off the police department, it takes the onus off the court," said Capt. Glen Cauwels, who added that the ordinance's primary goal is to reduce false alarms. "In this day and age, we’re expected to do more with less and this is a perfect opportunity to do that."
Councilman Ed Trawinski agreed that the opportunity to reduce false alarms was his primary motivation for amending the ordinance.
"I don’t think our motivation in doing this should be because it generates additional revenue," Trawinski said. "Our motivation for doing this is because it’s going to save the taxpayers money in the long run.
"We’ve asked our police department over the last five, six years to do more with less," he continued. "We want them to do the things that address crime rate and significant issues. Our police department should not be in the business, if we can do it in a cost-effective manner, of enforcing our alarm ordinance or responding to false alarms."
Last year, the borough collected just $9,778 of the $27,235 in fines meted out for false alarms, meaning that roughly two-thirds of fines were not received. If the council chooses to proceed with contracting security system enforcement to a third-party biller, the police and courts will no longer be charged with following up on unpaid fines and can focus their time on protecting residents of the community.
Sgt. Richard Schultz assured residents at Tuesday's meeting that the move to a third-party biller would not require them to switch their alarm provider.
Borough manager Tom Metzler will return to council at the second work session in April with a revised false alarm fine schedule that offers price comparisons to surrounding municipalities. At that point, council will decide whether to move ahead with enacting the alarm ordinance changes.
In the mean time, Mayor Jeanne Baratta suggested spreading the word to residents that mandatory security system registration was on the horizon via the borough's website, spring newsletter and Fair Lawn TV.