Letter to clarify alarm fee changes

The city plans to revise a letter it sent last month to people with alarm systems asking them to pay a $25 permit registration fee.

The new letter will attempt to clear up confusion about the fee, and may be sent out next week, said Kelly Carpenter, city finance director.

People who received the original letter still are obligated to pay the fee, she said.

The original letter, based on a new false-alarm ordinance passed by the Wichita City Council in June, notified users of alarm systems that they need to pay $25 to renew the permit registration fee for their systems. Some users didn't know they had a permit.

"They've always had a permit. Whether they knew about it, I'm not sure," Carpenter said,

"When they actually got their permit, when the alarms were installed, they were required to pay $10," she said. "Some paid it to the vendor and the vendor paid us. Some (vendors) had the customer pay us."

The new ordinance replaces the one-time $10 registration fee with an annual $25 fee to recoup the costs of administering the system, Carpenter said. Those costs include issuing unique permit numbers to owners of alarm systems, which the city uses to track each alarm, and paying the vendor that does the billing for false alarms, AOT Public Safety Corp. of Maryland.

In the past, all city taxpayers paid those costs, Carpenter said. Now they will be paid only by those who have alarm systems.

The city spends about $335,000 to manage the system, she said. The $25-a-year registration fee will generate an estimated $328,000 annually.

The original letter failed to make clear what the fee covers, Carpenter said. Some assumed the fee was to cover the cost of false alarms. But those will be paid only by users of systems that report false alarms, she said.

The letter also should have explained the changes in the false-alarm ordinance the City Council passed, and why they were needed, Carpenter said.

False alarms cost the city about $3 million a year, she said. The city responds to about 25,000 alarms a year, and 98 percent are false calls.

It costs the city $45 per half-hour for two officers and one vehicle to respond to a security call.

Fire department responses cost an estimated $538 per truck per call, Carpenter said. That cost can mount because multiple units often are dispatched.

False alarms not only are costly to the city, but they divert those resources from real emergencies, she said.

The new ordinance increases the fees on those users whose systems actually make false alarms.

They get one false alarm free, and if they pass an on-line test aimed at educating them about false alarms, they get a second one free, as well, Carpenter said.

After that, the fee for a false police call would be $40. The fee rises incrementally to $350 on the 10th call.

For the more expensive false fire alarms, the fee would be $100 on the next call, and $750 on the 10th.

The city expects to collect about $500,000 a year from the new rules.

Carpenter said the city hopes the new fee doesn't discourage people from having an alarm system.

"Alarm owners understand the costs we use to administer that program. They bear the cost of that program," she said. "This is just trying to make sure those people who utilize the program pay for the program."

People with questions may call the Wichita False Alarm Reduction Program, 877-888-1355, or Michelle Meyer, the city alarm administrator, 316-268-4115.