Pay up, or lose utilities

Thursday, January 1, 2009

CORDELE, Ga.--City commissioners here voted in early December to adopt a new ordinance, which took effect Jan. 1, that will tie false alarm fines to end users’ public utilities, including water, sewage, gas and garbage collection.

Cordele chief of police Dwayne Orrick said the new fining system is an attempt to recoup the cost of lost resources. “At the end of the month we review the incident locations and then we pass the address on of those locations that exceeded the amount of alarms that we allow, and the number of incidences that they had there,” Orrick said. “Then the finance department adds that to the utility bill, which covers water, sewage, gas and garbage. And so if they don’t pay the utility bill, there’s already a process in place for having the utilities discontinued.”

Alarm users are allowed five false alarms for the year, with fines for the sixth through 13th running from $50 to $500.

Cordele city commissioners chairman Zack Wade said the ordinance is not designed to hurt anyone. “We don’t feel like these are criminal,” Wade said, “but it’s something that’s really a nuisance. Hopefully they will be corrected. [But] an alternative would be to cut all the services off for those who don’t pay … Hopefully we won’t have to do that to anybody.”

The ordinance extends to churches and schools as well as residences and businesses. Users will be required to fill out an application and register their alarm systems through the Cordele Police Department and pay a registration fee of $10. Anyone failing to register an alarm system will be fined $100.

Georgia Electronic Life Safety & Systems Association president Mike Latty said Cordele’s method of managing the fines would be cost saving and effective. “Most of the jurisdictions have to create some sort of an administrative division to help manage the false alarm problem, and I think, with the economy the way it is, they’ve made a good move in the way that they’re going to manage this without having to create a separate division in the police department,” Latty said. “I think it’s going to be very efficient for them to manage it this way.”

Orrick asserts that end users have plenty of opportunity to make sure they are not assessed fines. “We have a secondary notification requirement in there before they notify the 911 center to dispatch an officer ... And if you have a repeat alarm - four or five times in a couple days - then you say, ‘Look I’m having a problem with the alarm system don’t send any body, and I’ll notify the alarm company and have it serviced.’ So it gives them the opportunity to use a little judgment, too.”