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Council Agrees to Mandatory Alarm Registration, Scraps Sign-Up Fee

Council agrees to proceed with mandatory alarm system registration and tiering false alarm fines

After about an hour's worth of discussion Tuesday, borough council came to a compromise on the manager's .

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.

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."

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 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, 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.

Tommy P February 29, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Zak, thank you for the follow up. IF They really expect a 35% reduction in false alarms, the council should have no problem with setting a baseline 10% less then the current number of false alarms as an automatic sunset provision. IF Sgt Schultz is spending 5 hours a week on paperwork, we need to understand why. I doubt its his proficiency, maybe we should look at the process. Maybe we should look at the whole department's processes for potential savings. Since we are no longer charging for registration, how does the 3rd party get paid? Will it be just an additional expense? Or will we see a reduction in the police budget to capture these savings? How do we ensure this third party maintains the data on who does (and by omission doesn't) have an alarm? What safe guards do we have for that personal data? Doesn't the alarm company ask their clients whom to contact? Isn't it already illegal for a robocall, and such the police are speaking with a live person who already has that information?
Tommy P February 29, 2012 at 01:27 PM
@FL1985 I fully recognize what the volunteers do. Bergen County is fortunate to have so many people willing and able to volunteer. I patronize their fund raisers, their flowers were a hit this year. The problem is the proposed ordinance has nothing to do with reducing false alarms. Its the improvement over the years in the technologies that Tyco and some of the smaller players have integrated into their systems. Its process improvements in how they respond to those signals. Aside from reducing the number of alarm systems, there isn't much Fair Lawn can do to curtail the number of false alarms.
Sue Mayers February 29, 2012 at 01:30 PM
I would like to publicly thank the Mayor and Council for taking all into consideration. I attended last night's meeting and it was both informative and well run. On my way out of the meeting I stopped and picked up a registration form - the fact that alarm systems needed to be registered was not known to me. I will be faxing my documentation in this morning. The third party billing seems to be a very good idea with the understanding that they will have better control and time to manage this task. There was no mention as of yet on how the third party billing will be paid - but remember if they are more efficient at collecting fines and keeping on top of things, freeing up valuable police time - it will pay for itself in the long run.I felt much better leaving the meeting knowing that our voices were heard. I would also like to thank all of the responders to this site - many raised questions I did not think of and some gave me answers I needed. Good Job all the way around!!!!
Sue Mayers February 29, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Agreed and that was something I was wondering about last night - I did not understand how if a fine was sent out it was not collected - however, it was mentioned that these fines go to court and the judge can dismiss them - something I don't understand but will be attending the next council meeting to find out more
In the know February 29, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Thomas, while it is the fee increases that generate your comments let me speak of spending cuts. The proposed 2012 budget as presented to council has a 1.04% increase over last year or an increase of $474,678.95. Yet salaries, health care and other expenses have increased $1,446,463. The difference is spending cuts. The issue facing Fair Lawn is the depleting surplus. Almost 10 million dollars in 2008 it will be under three million this year. To ignore this problem today will result in a major financial crisis in 2014. This is all public information, check it out!
Bruce Knuckle February 29, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Isnt Schultz the guy that tried to take a live mortar shell apart at the police station before the bomb squad had to be called 2 years ago? I guess he cant handle alarm paperwork either.
Interested Party February 29, 2012 at 03:11 PM
I was not aware that we had to register our alarms. Personally, I do not see why we have to. The alarm company transmits the info to the police. Don't they then have the contact info if they need it? Aside from that, it is the alarm company that tries to get in touch with the owners of the dwelling. Mr. Peluso's statement about heavily fining violators angers me. We had a situation in which our alarm went off in the middle of the night - we woke up petrified that someone was in our house. The alarm company called and we told them to send the police. Meanwhile, my husband took our dog and went to investigate while the kids and I stayed in my bed, shaking. The police arrived and checked everything out. They could not find anyone so they finally left. The next day, we were visited by an officer with a SUMMONS for a false alarm!!! Imagine my outrage at that!! Here we were, scared out of our wits, and we get this piece of paper, like it was our fault. The job of the police is to protect our community. When we needed them, they were there, but then it was like we were being punished for needing them...very upsetting. As it turned out, there was a glitch in our system, as the alarm went off around the same time the next evening, but that time we did not call the police. We had it taken care of right away. I understand there are real false alarms to deal with, but maybe the summonses should be given out in a case by case situation.
Tommy P February 29, 2012 at 03:38 PM
"In the know", its nice to see more new profiles commenting, healthy discussions are vital to good governance. When I do my budget, the total matters. An increase in the total is an increase in the total no matter how you slice it. When I reduce my spending at the supermarket by switching from prepared foods to making the meals myself, that is a cut. But when I spend more then I save on other expenses like tax increases and generally spend more then I reduced spending, that's not really a cut in my budget, its an actually increase. Your pointing out that we INCREASED our spending. I will concede reducing expenses is a cut. And frankly I would love to see the manager publish some details on where those cuts came from. This town, like most other does a poor job of publishing that information.
Tommy P February 29, 2012 at 03:39 PM
@In the know - where did you get the budget detail from? The budget crisis is not coming in 2014. Its here now. Waiting to loose so much blood that you faint makes matters worse. We are bleeding now. We need to address this now. The answer isn't more infusions, its less bleeding. I know previous regimes made matters worse, like the $800,000+ a year we lose on the community center. But this council signed up for the job at hand. As you point out, its public information, they asked for our trust, they represented they knew what they were doing. What's new? Some of them were around to vote for these spending projects. Why is it that government employees are guaranteed not only pay increases, benefit increases for longevity, but an increase on what those increase should be. Should we have a tax assessor who makes $153,000+ a clerk that makes $145,000+ a year?
Chris Antonelli February 29, 2012 at 04:21 PM
The inability to run a government has led to this. A fishing expedition by the Council and the Manager to try and raise revenue. These tactics don't work. The amount generated never covers what is really needed and it becomes the new "chase" year after year. Cuts are needed. The Boro needs to live within its means.
Chris Antonelli February 29, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Part of being an elected official is making tough choices. Adding fees and raising taxes are not as tough as telling people; "Hey, we can't really afford this right now. We're cutting it until it becomes fiscally possible again.". We can't dwell on what the past Council's did. Ganz and the gang are gone. Peluso is new, and I really don't think Swain ever brought anything to the table. You start here and now. Fresh thinking and new ideas. Not fees and taxes. That just pisses everyone off.
Sylvia Khronenburg February 29, 2012 at 05:29 PM
While we are on the topic of saving money, seems to me an earlier poster is very correct, why hasn't to boro gone to the State Health Benefits plan, is it because elected officials cannot receive the State plan, and also, how much money was saved as a result of switching to self insured? I would also like to point out the lack of snow has to be a savings for the boro too, or is this money getting used somewhere else? The Kingdom of Swainia continues.
publius February 29, 2012 at 05:53 PM
@Interested: no requirement for people to update information with alarm companys and the majority of the time the company barely has an information to provide that is useful for a followup. Quick question, when did this issue of your alarm and issued summons occur and in what town? Something doesn't seem right...
Bruce Knuckle February 29, 2012 at 06:22 PM
If you received a summons, it was not your first false alarm.
Bruce Knuckle February 29, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Chris, the process for giving a summons for false alarms was already in place. Same as the ordinance prohibiting you from throwing leaves in the street, yet we spend a ton of $$$ cleaning them up each fall. Its the Administrators that are not holding their folks accountable. More cuts in personnel will only cause more missed opportunity and fall out. The people in charge need to be held accountable or be replaced. Our council has become lazy and ineffective. I was hoping for more from the newer folks, but hope is waning. Adolpho, dont discount Trawinki's hand in making decisions based on his own mental nonsense along with flip flop Tedeschi stirring the pot and running away.
publius February 29, 2012 at 07:31 PM
@Bruce: holding who accountable? Alarm violations ARE handled but there is no incentive for compliance under the current outdated ordinance, if there had been then we would be seeing as many violators with double digit amount of false alarms. Updating the ordinance would hold the person with an alarm responsible and bring them into compliance AND reduce the amount of false alarms
In the know February 29, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Mr. Antonelli, What would you like to see cut? Last night it was revealed the 2012 budget has a 1.04% increase. It will cost you more than that to run your own household. Have you purchased gasoline in the past week? So lets say to have a zero increase will take $1,000,000. Keeping in mind that this cut is not a one year cut but forever, list what you would like to see cut.
In the know February 29, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Thomas, the boro manager discussed the numbers with the council last evening at the work session.
Tommy P February 29, 2012 at 10:33 PM
When in the minority Mr Trawinski pointed out the library is $700k over funded. Memorial Pool is used by less then 10% of the population for a mere 2 months. We have over 100 employees who make more than $100k while the median salary is 1/3 of that. We could have saved on health benefits. The council has some explaining to do.
Tommy P February 29, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Forget a Hoboken Patch, lets lobby at the very least to get Hoboken out of the Abbott Districts. They are a disgrace which cost Fair Lawn tax payers over $32,000,000. That solves a lot of short term problems. Jeanne Baratta, Edward Trawinski, John Cosgrove, Lisa Swain, Kurt Peluso could pass a nonbinding resolution calling on Robert Gordon, Connie Wagner and Tim Eutice to introduce legislation to end Abbott or resign, the BoE could join in to. What are you afraid of?
Tommy P February 29, 2012 at 11:04 PM
I wonder why the borough hasn't published that information on its website....
Tommy P February 29, 2012 at 11:09 PM
http://www.northjersey.com/news/82227302_Sergeant_tries_to_disarm_a_live_mortar.html He sure was, I wonder what the outcome was to the investigation.......
Chris Antonelli February 29, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Adolpho, I dont get the Hoboken reference. Like I.said, I think you have me confused with someone else, or you dont know who I am because you dont live here.
Interested Party March 01, 2012 at 12:11 AM
My mistake..I realized after I posted...it was a warning, but, nonetheless upsetting to receive in that circumstance when we were truly afraid someone had broken into our house in the middle of the night. We also had an instance in which we were away and there was a bad windstorm here. our alarm company called to tell us the alarm went off but we didn't want to tell them to send the police in case it was the wind that had set it off. Why should we have to be uneasy that our house was possibly broken into while we were way because we didn't want another warning or summons in case it was the wind? what is the purpose then of having an alarm?? things happen and sometimes the alarms are false, but again, circumstance should dictate
Zak Koeske March 01, 2012 at 12:19 AM
@Interested Party There will be a provision for false alarms that occur during extenuating circumstances (like during serious weather events or while you're on vacation, etc.) and the council wanted these situations to be considered individually when fines are assessed.
tacitus March 01, 2012 at 12:45 AM
@Aldopho: I believe the question of compliance was making the alarm owner/user compliant not the Borough worker. But for the record, there is no neglect on the person issuing the warning or summonses nor on the court clerk's office for collecting but if tickets and fines are the answer as you say (and I am not against this by the way), tell me why do we have businesses with double digit false alarms i.e. 20 plus false alarms for the year? Tickets were issued, fines levied but yet there was no compliance and the ordinance doesn't allow the borough to have that faulty alarm system taken off line until repaired.
Chris Antonelli March 01, 2012 at 01:26 AM
Well, this is Fair Lawn Patch. So I'll let you figure it out. Hint: If I lived in GlenRock, I'd post on that Patch.
Tommy P March 01, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Chris, you post here, Wyckoff, Teaneck, Fort Lee, Paramus, Franklin Lakes, Ridgewood, Overdell/River Edge, Glen Rock, Mahwah, Hasbrouck Heights, Tewksbury, New Milford, Bridgewater, Cranford, Huntington, Westwood/Washington Township, Poway, CA, Bensalem, PA, Attleboro, MA, Albany, CA, Redondo Beach, CA Should I continue?
Bruce Knuckle March 01, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Chris just perpetuates nonsense, now I get why.
Bruce Knuckle March 01, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Publius, I agree the resident should be held responsible for the false alarms. I was referring to the collecting of the fines. Someone dropped the ball. Somoens boss here, let them drop the ball.

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