Toronto may raise false alarm fees

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TORONTO—A proposal to increase the fees the city charges for false fire alarms may fan the flames of a controversy already underway about Toronto’s zero-tolerance false fire-alarm regulation.

Also, hiking the fees won’t be helpful to that Canadian city or its residents, predicts Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition.

“I believe Toronto will realize, like other cities that have tried to squeeze unreasonable fees and fines from citizens, that the effort will not yield the desirable results (of increased revenue),” Martin said in an email interview with Security Systems News.

He said that “citizens will either stop using devices that generate those signals or they will resist, delay, complain or just not pay ...  leaving the city with large uncollected balances on the books and unhappy citizens—a loss-loss.”

Some residents of that Canadian city already have reportedly been disconnecting their fire alarms to avoid the high fines required by Toronto’s zero-tolerance regulation, passed in early 2010. The cost for a false alarm currently is $350 per truck, and three trucks routinely respond to each alarm, bringing the total fine to $1,050.

But now those fines could climb even higher, because a newly proposed budget item calls for boosting the rate from $350 to $410 per hour per vehicle dispatched. That would bring the total fine for the dispatch of three trucks to $1,230.

A city budget briefing says that the recommended change will result in more than $1.9 million in additional revenues for the city in 2011 if the city has the same volume of calls as it did in 2010.

The fee hike is being proposed at the same time a city councillor is leading an effort to relax the city's regulation to allow residents one free false alarm per year.

Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby told SSN that members of the City Council didn’t realize when they passed the zero-tolerance regulation last year how hard it would hit city residents. She said she knows of four or five in her ward who have unplugged their alarms out of fear they’d face the hefty fines.

Luby has been working recently to persuade the City Council to go back to a previous regulation passed in 2006 that would allow residents one free false alarm per year. “That way I think we do away with all the issues,” Luby said.

Council subcommittees were expected to review Luby’s proposal and the budget proposals in mid-January and send their recommendations to the full council for consideration in mid-February