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County mulls 'alarming' ordinance

August 28, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - If you have an alarm system for your home or business, a false alarm soon could cost you.

The Washington County Commissioners have proposed an ordinance that would levy fines for false alarms and require people to obtain permits to use and install alarm systems.

"This is something that's long overdue," said Col. Randy Wilkinson, chief deputy with the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Wilkinson said more than 99 percent of alarms to which deputies respond turn out to be false. Of the roughly 3,600 alarms that went off last year, only 22 were "legitimate," Wilkinson said.

When an alarm at a home or business goes off in Washington County, the sheriff's department generally sends two deputies to investigate, Wilkinson said.

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"If we only have five or 10 deputies working the county at any given time, that's a big pull on our work force," Wilkinson said.

Under a draft copy of the ordinance, fines would be levied on alarm owners after their second false alarm. Residential users would get warnings for their first two false alarms in a calendar year, pay a $30 fine for their third and shell out $45 for each subsequent violation.

Businesses would also receive warnings for their first two violations. However, the fines would be higher: $50 for the third violation and $75 after that.

The ordinance also would require alarm system owners and contractors to apply for permits to use and install alarms. Permits to use alarm systems would cost $30 for both residential and business users. Companies that install alarm systems would have to pay $100 for a business permit. All permits would have to be renewed annually.

Neil Glessner, president of Glessner Alarms in Hagerstown, said he is "not thrilled" about the ordinance.

"I don't think anybody likes government regulating their personal and business affairs," Glessner said.

Alarm ordinances in other counties have dramatically lowered the customer base of alarm companies, Glessner said.

"A lot of people are intimidated by technology. If someone is going to get fined every time they set the alarm off because they forgot that their spouse set it, that gets to be more trouble than it's worth for a lot of people," Glessner said.

Glessner, who has installed alarms in Frederick and Montgomery counties, both of which have ordinances, said Washington County's draft is "one of the more palatable ordinances" he has seen because it allows people to appeal their fines.

Wilkinson said the county is not trying to punish people who have alarm systems.

"We're just trying to cut down on the bad calls," Wilkinson said.




Public hearing



What: Proposed false alarm ordinance

When: Sept. 11, 1 p.m.

Where: County Administration Building, 100 W. Washington St., Hagerstown

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