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Suffolk County to vote on easing false alarm fees Wednesday

Officer David Belli, one of two officers manning

Officer David Belli, one of two officers manning Suffolk County's new Tele-Serve hotline, demonstrates how the new unit takes calls at police headquarters in Yaphank on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Suffolk lawmakers will consider legislation Wednesday to ease false alarm penalties for security system owners and eliminate a recurring annual fee for homeowners.

County police leaders and County Executive Steve Bellone oppose the bill, saying it would erode progress in reducing the number of false alarms, which totaled 97,000 in 2015.

Suffolk in April for the first time began charging up to $500 for false alarms and requiring those with security systems to register with the county — with fees of $100 for commercial alarms and $50 for residential alarms. The program was based on Nassau’s false alarm legislation, passed in 1991.

The new bill would fine residential alarm owners after the fourth false alarm, instead of the third currently in effect. Maximum fines would be reduced to $150 for residential alarms and $250 for commercial alarms. While the initial registration fee would remain, the bill would waive the annual $25 renewal charge for residences. The commercial permit renewal fee of $50 would remain.

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) said existing fines are excessive.

“I don’t think the average citizen wants to have their alarm go off,” she said. “I’m trying to be fair to our citizens.”

Browning worked with alarm company owners who complained they were caught off guard by the fees, approved by Suffolk lawmakers in December.

Alarm company owners also said the county was trying to boost revenues. The administration projected last year that the alarm fee would raise more than $7 million a year to help fund the police department. The new law would cost the county $1.3 million in annual revenue, according to the legislature’s nonpartisan Budget Review Office.

Police and administration officials said the alarm fee has succeeded in reducing false alarms. In July, there were 35 percent fewer false alarms than the same month a year ago.

“There are aspects in the bill that would adversely impact the success of the program,” Suffolk Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said. “A reduction of escalating fines benefits the most egregious offenders.”

The bill failed in the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee last Thursday. But Browning collected signatures from 10 of the 18 county lawmakers to put the measure to a vote of the full legislature Wednesday in Riverhead.

Bellone likely would veto the bill if it passes, said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider. The administration then would put forward an alternate version that would include a two-year registration of $100 for commercial and $50 for residential properties.

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