Kate Hebel added a burglar alarm to her Macalester-Groveland home decades ago with her father’s words ringing in her ears: “Locks only keep the honest people honest.”
She has dutifully paid the $28 annual fee St. Paul charges people with alarm systems. But when she saw the city planned to more than double it to $58, she was flabbergasted. She wrote to city leaders, saying they would dissuade homeowners from adding security equipment that makes the city safer.
After receiving dozens of similar messages over the past month, the City Council opted for a lesser annual fee increase, pushing to instead make people pay more for false alarms.
Council Members Dai Thao and Dan Bostrom, who have raised different concerns about increasing alarm owners’ costs, voted against the ordinance setting the annual fee at $38.
More than 98 percent of alarm calls in St. Paul last year were false or unfounded and those calls take up a lot of police time and resources, Deputy Police Chief Paul Iovino said last month. The city has not increased its alarm fee in more than a decade, Iovino said, and staff worked to come up with “as balanced an approach as we could.”
Francesca Stirpe was one of many residents who said the city’s initial proposal did not strike the right balance. Those who are causing the false alarms should pay even more, said Stirpe, who lives in the Western Hazel Park neighborhood on St. Paul’s East Side.
“That means people need to be on their A game,” she said, and be responsible for their system.
Residents and businesses with alarm systems have been allowed two free false alarms a year before paying $25 for the third and $50 for the fourth. The penalties continued to grow from there.
When the new fees take effect in September, people will have one free false alarm a year but the second will cost $75, the third $100, the fourth $200 and on up.
Minneapolis, by comparison, doesn’t charge alarm owners an annual fee but makes people pay $30 for their first false alarm and $100 for the second. That cost continues to increase by $100 for each successive false alarm.
Brandon Mason, of Highland Park, said he is glad council members did not increase the annual fee to $58, but is disappointed with the process.
City officials drew up the 2017 budget anticipating they would get around $287,000 in revenue from alarm fee increases, Finance Director Todd Hurley said. Mason said the city should not be banking on income from fees that city leaders and the public have not yet considered.
“We should have probably got to it quicker,” Hurley said of the fee increases. “But I didn’t expect there would be any issues with it.”
While council members addressed some community concerns, their plan doesn’t deal with a common theme raised by residents: that commercial and residential properties should have different alarm costs. Council President Russ Stark has said he wants to look into that idea.