Ceres council will weigh tying false-alarm fines to utility bills

etracy@modbee.comApril 20, 2013 

    Erin Tracy
    Title: Breaking news reporter
    Coverage areas: Breaking news, crime
    Bio: Erin Tracy started working for The Bee in September 2010. She has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University and previously worked at the Daily Democrat in Woodland and the Times-Standard in Eureka.
    Recent stories written by Erin
    On Twitter: @ModestoBeeCrime
    E-mail: etracy@modbee.com

— False alarms for emergency services soon could cost residents and businesses more and potentially put a stop to their garbage pickup.

Residents and business owners whose faulty fire or burglary alarms repeatedly dispatch police and fire personnel have been getting fined since the city enacted an ordinance in 1993. But violators largely have ignored the bills because many learned there would be no consequences. The city's only recourse has been to recover the unpaid fines through small claims court, which is time consuming for staff and therefore never pursued.

The City Council on Monday will discuss increasing the fines for false alarms and tacking those fines onto city utility bills for water, sewer and garbage.

Deputy Police Chief Mike Borges said if the bill goes unpaid for more than 15 days after it's due, the city could terminate service.

In the first quarter of 2013, there were 609 alarm calls, or an average of seven a day. Of those, 420 were false alarms, according to a staff report.

The Police Department does not charge for the first two false alarms and sends a warning notice after the second. It doesn't charge for alarms caused by power failures, high winds or other acts of nature.

Of the 420 false alarms during the first quarter, the police mailed 30 bills totaling nearly $3,000. Twenty-four percent of that has been paid. Police believe compliance will increase considerably when the fine is included in utility bills.

The current fee schedule, which hasn't changed for two decades, will increase from $35, $70 and $100 for the third, fourth and fifth false alarm to $100, $250 and $500, respectively. Subsequent calls in the same 12 months will be fined $500. Police Chief Art de Werk said the increase will reflect the actual cost of service.

If the new fees and penalties are adopted by the City Council, residents and businesses owners can still appeal the fines within 10 days of receiving the bill.

The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, 2701 Fourth St.

Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at etracy@modbee.com or (209) 578-2366.

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