After strong discussion, Crow Wing County Board officially ends fee for false alarms
Discussion on a proposed change in Crow Wing County’s security system alarm ordinance brought out strong opinions Tuesday.
At issue was a 2007 recommendation to add a fee for law enforcement response to false alarms. The sheriff’s department made the administrative decision to stop charging for false alarms years ago.
Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul Thiede said he didn’t know the fee went away because the county operated with it for a number of years.
A question at the board was whether it was unfair to residents without alarm systems to bear the same financial burden when people with alarm systems create a response cost both in terms of fuel and staff time.
In March of 2007, changes were made to the county’s ordinance to address false alarms. There seemed to be a push to establish a fee as a way of reducing the number of false alarms. Tight budgets had departments looking at ways to maximize incoming revenue. Crow Wing County established a $50 fee for false alarms. After three false alarms, the fee went up to $100.
In 2010, the sheriff’s office asked the county board to eliminate the fee. It was problematic to track. A large number of the alarms proved to be false but there wasn’t a uniform understanding of when a false alarm kicked in. Did it come into play when the deputy got in the squad car before being called off or when the squad car reached the residence?
The sheriff’s office determined invoicing for false alarms wasn’t serving the public well. In 2011, the false alarm fee was removed. But the ordinance wasn’t changed to reflect the policy as it didn’t involve county board action. Thiede said false information currently remains on the county website as the fee is no longer imposed. He asked where the county fell down on this issue.
Tina Elder, administrative supervisor at the sheriff’s office, said the incorrect ordinance sat there for a long time. It wasn’t keeping up with changing technology. It was something Elder wanted to fix. The information has been incorrect and causing confusion, she said.
“It was government at its worst, quite frankly,” Elder said, adding that’s what the sheriff’s office wants to correct going forward to end the confusion.
“This has been very frustrating for our office,” Dahl told the board. “We have looked at this and looked at this.”
There were numerous attempts to come up with new ordinance language. None were entirely successful. So the language stayed the same.
Ordinance language states if an individual fails to pay the fee established by the board within 30 days of billing, the sheriff’s office had the discretion to disconnect the alarm or not respond to it. The sheriff’s office had repeatedly stated not responding isn’t an option. Elder said if the an alarm goes off in the county, law enforcement will be on the way to provide support.
“We think we have a better option for you,” Dahl said.
Thiede said he thinks it’s a bit unfair to have less or more service than the person who goes out and gets an alarm system.
“If you go out there for a false run that costs me money. ... That’s why I supported that fee in the first place,” Thiede said. “Sheriff, I’m going to say this as clearly as I can say it. I took your recommendation in 2007 because you came here and said this was a solution to that problem ...
“If I vote for this alarm changes today ... I’m putting it right on you,” Thiede told Dahl. “You’re saying this is a solution to a problem you are having there. And I don’t know the answer but you are saying you have the answer.”
“I have big shoulders,” Dahl said. “And I’ve had those big shoulders since I’ve been in office and I’m very proud of that fact that I do take a lot of that responsibility on.
“I also can tell you that I think we are doing a terrible injustice if we don’t consistently, consistently within this office, within Crow Wing County look at ways we can better serve the citizens of Crow Wing County.”
Dahl said he wasn’t saying he wouldn’t be back in front of the board in two or three years with a different recommendation.
“I do believe and I know that you believe this commissioner, too, as well, that we have to consistently look at better ways that we can serve our people. ... It’s constantly changing and forever evolving.”
“I’m glad you are taking ownership because I agree with you 100 percent, it’s like broadband,” Thiede said. “Should I be forced to pay for everyone’s broadband because some kid who lives in up in Timbuktu can’t get his fix on video games? You know that’s an issue and this is the same one.”
Elder said people with alarms believe there shouldn’t be a penalty for having them. “We are trying to find a happy balance between the two positions,” Elder said.
The county registered 2,900 alarm systems in 2013. The first year the alarm system is registered the cost is $50 with an annual $20 fee after that to update key holder and contact information.
Commissioner Doug Houge said he agreed with the initial fee but suggested eliminating the annual fee as everyone is paying taxes for services. Elder said there is still an expense in getting the alarm holder information with mailings to alarm owners to make sure information is up to date.
The board approved the sheriff’s departments recommended revisions to eliminate the false alarm fee.