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Suffolk lowers fines for false alarms, keeps security system fees

Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), left, talks

Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), left, talks about her alarm bill as Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) looks on in Smithtown on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. Hahn had a competing bill that was eventually passed by the legislature. Credit: Ed Betz

Suffolk lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday that rolls back fines for false alarms but shot down a competing measure that would have eliminated ongoing fees for security systems.

The new bill makes the existing annual registration of $100 for businesses and $50 for residential systems good for two years. Fines, which start at $100 for residential customers, also go up more slowly for repeat offenders.

The bill, approved 10 to 6, reduces anticipated revenue from the false alarm program from $5 million to $2 million in fees and fines for 2017, according to the legislature’s nonpartisan Budget Review Office.

The bill, sponsored by Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), had the support of the Suffolk Police Department and County Executive Steve Bellone.

Hahn called her bill a compromise between Bellone’s original proposal and the more hard-line proposal sponsored by Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), which was tabled on a 10-6 vote.

“It maintains elements of the program that have worked while reducing false alarm costs for consumers,” Hahn said.

Browning said residents were angry over getting hit repeatedly by higher fees and taxes.

“To continually charge people for having an alarm, to me, that’s just a tax,” Browning said. “I think people are done having to pay for something they already pay for.”

The Suffolk Police Department started registering security systems and fining for false alarms earlier this year. Suffolk received 97,000 false alarm calls in 2015.

Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said Tuesday the program had reduced false alarm numbers by 33 percent since being implemented. Police response times to 911 calls had been reduced by 9 percent.

Alarm company owners have said at previous meetings that they had lost customers because of the fee and threat of fines.

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) has another proposal, which hasn’t gotten support; it would eliminate the registration fee and issue a fine after four false alarms. “We’re taxing our people to death,” he said. “We can’t keep sticking our hands in the taxpayer’s pocket.”

Cameron said: “People pay a lot for police service. They shouldn’t want us to waste time responding to false alarm calls.”

Suffolk lawmakers also approved a contract with its 253 probation officers, who have been without a contract for six years.

The contract gives 11 percent raises from 2011 through 2016. The Budget Review Office calculated the total cost of the contract at $16.1 million from 2016 to 2020, including $1.8 million that officers agreed to defer until retirement.

“It’s a fair and equitable agreement for all involved,” said Noel DiGerolamo, the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association president who negotiated the contract with Bellone. The membership will vote on the matter soon, according to probation president Matthew Porter.

The contract was approved 14 to 1, with Trotta as the only vote against the measure. He called deferring pay until officers retire “kicking the can down the road.”


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