TX cities to enter monitoring biz?

Potential competition with private business is questioned by industry members
Sunday, October 1, 2006

CEDAR HILL, Texas--North Texas city officials here in Cedar Hill, along with officials in Duncanville and DeSoto, have drafted a business plan that may offer alarm monitoring to residents of the three cities through Southwest Regional Communication Center, a shared communications center which already monitors a handful of accounts.
"I don't think there is a whole lot we can do about it," said Chriss Russell, president of the North Texas Alarm Association. "This is something that the citizens aren't going to get up in arms about. It is kind of, in my opinion, borderline unethical."
Russell said the cities "claim they have been monitoring a couple of alarm systems since 1999. The parties monitored were grandfathered in, to allow monitoring down the road." But he suggested it was instead a move to circumvent the state law: Prohibition Against Certain Political Subdivisions Acting as Alarm Systems Company, which went into effect later that year.
Although the association cannot take action, if the cities have been monitoring from the year that they say, the group will continue to monitor the issue.
Jim Baugh, DeSoto City Manager, said the cities have monitored accounts on a limited basis through the shared dispatch center since 1999, with at least 20 ongoing accounts. Baugh added the push to create a business plan to monitor accounts surfaced after citizens asked about monitoring services.
Although residents in these cities could have monitoring done by the city, Russell pointed out that "[the cities] do not intend on monitoring commercial fire systems or commercial [alarm] systems or anything that has to do with things that require additional work and monitoring, such as monitoring trouble signals, dispatching commercial fire, opening and close," which are elements associated with commercial accounts.
Under the act, Russell said, even that residential monitoring "would be against the law [if the cities were] to promote and make a profit off of it." As a liaison from the industry, Russell attended the workshops held in each of the three cities about the issue. "They are asking for $50,000 from each city, so they can buy the proper equipment like redundant receivers and automation software to do the job they claim they have been doing since 1999." Along with funds from each city, the monitoring program would charge a flat rate of $25 per customer, he noted.
Ultimately, "they want the residential customers where they have an alarm and send the police out," he said.
The accounts monitored by the city go directly to the 911 Center, where 911 operators receive alarms and work alarms like a central monitoring station, said Baugh.
However, Russell said some alarm companies would not service alarms in that area. "Not because they are mad about the situation, but because it doesn't fit into their business model." Each alarm company varies, but, typically, most require contracts to service customers only because of liability. "There are companies that I'm sure will go out there and service it," he said.
Baugh understands the potential differences of opinion between alarm companies and the cities. "Basically we think it offers some citizens a level of service that might not be reached by a private alarm company," he said. "Alarms would be monitored locally and response goes directly to the 911 dispatch center."