Seattle puts licensing, fees on hold

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Saturday, November 1, 2003

SEATTLE - Facing budget shortfalls next year, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels proposed a license fee for alarm monitoring companies as a means of bringing in additional revenue. Last month, the city council sent the proposal back to committee to allow for more public comment on the issue.

Under the proposed licensing structure, alarm companies would be required to pay an annual fee of $40 for each of its monitored burglar alarms, $80 for monitored fire alarms not required by fire code and $320 for monitored fire alarms required by law at larger institutions, such as hospitals and schools.

The annual license would be made up of two parts: a flat fee would be based on the number of monitored alarms in Seattle, up to a $500 maximum, and the fee for each individual alarm the company monitors. Companies would be required to provide customers with a copy of its policies and practices with respect to the billing of these fees.

Ron Walters of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, said companies would most likely pass these costs on to their customers, thereby putting the onus for making up budget shortfalls back on taxpayers.

According to Councilman Jim Compton, the council didn’t feel comfortable moving forward on the

proposal without further input from the community.

“This legislation requires the extra deliberation and I’m not encouraging a council vote without good public understanding of what we are trying to achieve,” Compton said.

The mayor has also proposed a $125 fine for false burglar alarms. At present, false alarms can result in a citation to be handled in municipal court. The new fees would be handled by the city’s Department of Executive Administration and, like the licensing fees, would be billed to the monitoring company rather than the alarm owner, under a proposal put forth by Compton.

“These false alarms are a huge drain on officer and firefighter time, and city resources currently are subsidizing a private industry,” Compton said. “We need to find a way to reduce that burden on our scarce public safety resources.”

Compton also thinks the council and alarm companies can cooperate throughout this process to eliminate some of the animosity that has surrounded similar proposals across the country.

“We believe we can work with these companies to teach more responsible behavior with alarm systems,” he said.

In his budget proposal for 2004, Nickels estimated that licensing fees alone could recover more than $1.56 million in city costs that have, until now, been lost because of false alarm responses. Last year, the Seattle Police Department spent an estimated $1.4 million responding to false alarms.

At press time, a public hearing on the proposal was scheduled for Nov. 6.