Washington County looks to increase penalty on repeat false alarm offenders

Thursday, March 5, 2009

HAGERSTOWN, Md--A public hearing held in February found the Washington County Board of Commissioners discussing a proposed false alarm ordinance. The ordinance as proposed looked to collect fines from consistent false alarm generators rather than punish, with a high yearly permit fee, all alarm users, most of whom, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Office, are not consistent repeat false alarm offenders.

Washington County Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore and assistant county attorney Andrew Wilkinson said to their knowledge there were no industry professionals present at the public meeting, held here at the Washington County Administration Building. "There were a couple of citizens there, but we addressed all their issues prior to," Mullendore said. "There were actually no public comments whatsoever."

Mullendore said the ordinance passed, but not as originally proposed. "There were some modifications to it. We did agree to drop the fee for the initial permit, and we also dropped the business permit, as well as the reinstatement fees," Mullendore said. "It permits us to do the false alarm violation fees. Those are still established at $30 for residential, $60 for business." Mullendore said the first two violations result in a warning, while the third violation is when the fees kick in, adding $20 per residential violation and $25 per business violation to the respective base fees up to a maximum of $100 per violation for residential and $200 per violation for business.

The new ordinance will take effect Jan. 1, 2010. "That's because we're in the process of doing a consolidated emergency communications center," Mullendore said, "and we wanted to be sure that was up and running before we try to administer this."

According to Wilkinson, the 2010 implementation date means "there's some time here for people to get their permits." Permits will still be required, but, according to Wilkinson, will have no associated cost. However, if alarm owners choose not to get the appropriate permit, the fees kick in right away. "The response to a non-permitted site--somebody that doesn't get a permit, but their alarm goes off anyway--it's the same fees, but they don't get a first and a second false alarm free," Wilkinson said. "From the first false alarm, they're going to get fined. No freebies."