Residents with monitored burglar alarms are off the hook for alarm registration fees; Dunwoody businesses are not. Council agreed to remove a $15 annual fee for residents from a proposed ordinance and instead institute a $25 annual registration fee for all businesses with monitored alarms. Residents and businesses alike will be held accountable for false alarm fees.
The ordinance, brought forth to council by Police Chief Billy Grogan has been discussed and debated during three council sessions since mid-August. At Monday’s meeting, council still could not fully agree on one point, so the ordinance was tabled until a future unknown date.
At issue is whether or not police should respond to a non-verified alarm if the home or business owner has not paid previous false alarm fines within 30 days of fine receipt.
By definition in the proposed ordinance, a verified alarm includes calls to 911, panic, hold up or fire alarms. These alerts would draw a response from police even if the property owner had previous false alarms and was delinquent in payment. However, if the alarm is not verified, then police would not respond. This, said Grogan, is the teeth of the ordinance.
Without a penalty for non-payment, said Grogan, then there is no incentive for property or business owners to pay false alarm fees.
“Typically when you have an ordinance with this provision, approximately 90 – 95 percent of people will pay their fines,” said Grogan.
Councilors Denis Shortal, Doug Thompson and Adrian Bonser did not agree with the details of Grogan’s proposed approach.
Thompson said he is for the ordinance because it alleviates pressure for officers who have to respond to false alarms, but is concerned about unintended consequences if police don’t respond. If people don’t pay their fines, then Thompson said he wouldn’t be opposed to putting the provision back in the ordinance, but he would rather proceed with caution and leave the provision out for the time being.
With a plan to outsource the monitoring of the alarms, fees and fines, Grogan said that it could be a challenge to find a vendor to agree to contract with the city if the provision is not in the ordinance.
“There’s no incentive for anyone to pay, so they may not be able to make any money,” said Grogan.
Bonser suggested extending the time for payment of fines to 45 or 60 days instead of the 30 days proposed by Grogan.
Councilor Terry Nall was in favor of the 30-day time period to pay the fine because property owners would have multiple points of communication that a false alarm fee had been assessed.
Fines for false alarms would not be assessed until the third occurrence.
“This isn’t about raising money,” said Nall. “This is about creating incentives for alarm owners to take responsibility for their alarms. We need to reduce the increasing number of false alarms because our officers need to be available for 911 calls and proactive policing activities.”
Mayor Mike Davis said he understood all of the issues, but was inclined to pass the ordinance as is and revisit if there is a future problem.
“You have to ignore an incredible number of warnings before we stop showing up,” said Davis.
Nall said that he didn’t see the point of having an ordinance if the provision was removed because he saw no incentive for anyone to pay their fines or even register their alarm. Non-registration of an alarm is also a violation under the proposed ordinance.
Thompson said that the fines would still apply and still be owed.
“I think most of our citizens in Dunwoody, if they got a civil fine, would pay it,” said Thompson. “I like to think we’re a little tougher than to say that we’re not going to collect the fines.”
Shortal agreed with Thompson.
“Most of the people in this city are going to pay the bill,” said Shortal. “I just do not want to not respond to somebody that needs help. I think that’s totally against what we stand for in this city and what we stand for on this council.”
Council voted 4-3 to remove the non response clause and then voted to table the ordinance to a future date.
Councilor Lynn Deutsch asked Grogan and city staff to research cities with similar ordinances that may have had unintended consequences based on a non response for failure to pay fines. Grogan was also asked to find out if any company would contract with the city to administer the alarm ordinance without the non response clause.
In other news, council approved an amendment to the contract for the first phase of the Brook Run Park trail. The Department of Natural Resources requested the amendment due to the change in the project’s scope which was originally proposed as a six foot wide asphalt trail. During the bidding process, the city changed the design to a 12-foot -wide concrete trail. According to the city, this “would provide a better recreational amenity in the park and allow for eventual connectivity to future park sites.”
The construction of a 12-foot -wide concrete trail has been challenged for weeks by nearby residents who are greatly concerned about increased water runoff in an area already prone to flooding during heavy rains from West Nancy Creek.
Beverly Armento, president of Lakeview Oaks Homeowner Association told council that the environmental impact of this trail has been underestimated in the DNR proposal and in statements made to council.
“I’d like to really know which city engineer has walked this trail and has told you that it’s okay,” said Armento. “I’d like to see that engineer’s stamp on the drawings. We were told there was an engineering analysis. There really wasn’t. There never has been.”
“Will there really be a hydrology study,” asked Armento. “Are we really going to do drainage and are we really going to minimize the loss of trees?”
As to problems with 911 service, delays continue to plague the implementation of system connections between the city’s 911 provider ChatComm, and DeKalb County. Police calls are dispatched by ChatComm, and fire and EMS calls are dispatched by the county after being transferred from ChatComm. The city has been working on a seamless connection between each provider’s computer aided dispatch system for a faster transfer of fire and EMS calls.
Recent efforts by city staff to begin testing the CAD to CAD interface were delayed due to a lack of permission from DeKalb to access the county’s data system, despite an intergovernmental agreement between the city and the county that the city adopted last year. City staff is not sure if the county’s Board of Commissioners also adopted the IGA.
Current statistics on call transfer time show, on average, that it takes one minute and 30 seconds for the data from a fire or EMS 911 call to be entered into the county’s system. After the county takes control of the call, it takes more than two minutes on average to send the call to dispatch and just over six minutes for fire and EMS to arrive on scene.