Texas city touts monitoring services

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Wednesday, October 1, 2003

WYLIE, Texas - City officials recently launched a publicity campaign in an attempt to increase the number of residents and businesses who take advantage of Wylie’s alarm monitoring services, which have been offered since 1998.

Wylie is one of three cities in Texas that provide alarm monitoring as a paid service. The three began their programs before the Texas Legislature, at the prodding of security industry lobbyists, passed a law outlawing such services. However, the three communities that had programs in place were grandfathered.

At present, only 55 homes and businesses are monitored by police and fire dispatchers in this city with a population of more than 21,000, according to Mark Witter, Wylie’s public information officer. Ideally, he said, the city would like to sign up a majority of residents who have alarm systems, although Witter said he wasn’t aware of any specific goal.

As part of the push, Wylie is dropping its $20 monthly monitoring fee in favor of a $100 permit fee, which is up $20 from 2002. The new permit fee was scheduled to take effect in conjunction with the city’s new fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.

By comparison, police and fire dispatchers in University Park and Highland Park monitor more than 1,000 accounts each. University Park charges $25 a month, while Highland Park charges $27. Neither charges more than $50 for a permit.

Last year, the monitoring service generated about $15,000 in revenue for the city, or one-fifth of the $75,000 in start-up costs Wylie paid five years ago.

Under Wylie’s monitoring service, dispatchers receive alarm calls and immediately send appropriate units to the location. They then try to contact the homeowner or business owner.

Programs such as Wylie’s are causes of concern for contract monitoring companies like San Antonio-based United Central Control, said Mark Matlock, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

“The alarm industry hates it. It’s tough enough competing against companies in the private sector, but when you have to compete against municipalities, it just gets ridiculous,” Matlock said. “They don’t even have to be held to the same standards we do. We have to be UL-listed to monitor fire, and they can exempt themselves. It’s not fair competition. They use resources to promote themselves to the public and they misrepresent the response to the public.”

Matlock has experience with these issues. As president of the Houston Burglar & Fire Alarm Association, he fought the city of West University’s plan to offer a similar service, to no avail, he said.

“You’ve heard the old expression ‘you can’t fight city hall,’ well that’s how it is,” Matlock said. “It’s a completely unfair advantage for the municipality.”

Among other complaints the industry has about municipalities offering monitoring services is the fact that they are not well-equipped to deal with other types of calls, such as customer service issues, Matlock said.

“In the long run, they’re not an alarm company, so how are they going to provide service? How are they going to take care of the customers and do all the things that an alarm contractor does?” he said.

Wylie Fire Chief Shan English said the city is not trying to compete with dealers or monitoring companies, but to automate the process, keep it local and increase service levels for its residents.

“We have received mixed responses from companies. The majority do not like the concept of a city providing monitoring service and have voiced that to our citizens, English said. “There are a few companies who are amenable to us, which has allowed us to develop some quality, working relationships.”

English also said concerns that the city unfairly favors its own monitoring service over private companies’ are unfounded.

Our response policy is the same regardless of who monitors the alarm,” English said. “Our police department has the option to disregard based on the call-back information, and fire and EMS personnel will always respond to check out the situation.”