Steamboat public safety director to draft new false alarm rules

Joel Rae says existing ordinance a burden on staff time

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— The Steamboat Springs City Council gave Public Safety Director Joel Rae an informal OK on Tuesday to submit a revised false alarm ordinance.

Rae told City Council members that the ordinance that went into effect Aug. 1, 2010, to reduce false alarms has had some success but that there have been some issues with the times it takes Steamboat’s police and fire departments to enforce it.

He said the police and fire departments responded to 957 false alarms during the first year of the new ordinance, a decline of 25 percent for the police department and 6 percent for the fire department compared with the previous year.

Rae said the existing ordinance requires a significant amount of staff time. Each property owner is permitted one false alarm each year before fines are assessed. For the first offense, warning letters are drafted for property owners and alarm companies and have to be approved by Rae or Fire Marshal Jay Muhme before the letters can be delivered. If the property where the false alarm occurred is unoccupied, officers have to find the owner using the Routt County Assessor’s Office database or law enforcement databases.

“It’s becoming quite a daunting task to manage, especially for the one-year time limit,” Rae said. “The reason that we would like to consider something is to manage that task and, secondarily, the negative feedback we’re getting.”

Rae said property owners haven’t responded well to fines.

According to information provided by Rae, police have billed $24,600 in fines but have collected only $6,250, or 25 percent. The fire department has billed $9,100 and collected $3,250, or 36 percent. He said the next step would be issuing municipal court citations, which hasn’t happened.

“We had put in place a fine with the intent not to generate revenues for the city but to encourage businesses and homeowners to deal with their false alarms and reduce the number of false alarms,” City Manager Jon Roberts told the City Council. “The program has had some limited success. We think it’s appropriate to tweak the program.”

Roberts said a revised ordinance could give Rae and Fire Chief Mel Stewart the discretion to waive fines if they’re working with property owners.

Rae said the ordinance could include changing the number of warnings from one in a one-year period to four in six months or a total of six in a year. He said police and firefighters could leave a prepared warning letter at the property, which would reduce staff time spent drafting, reviewing and sending letters as well as tracking down addresses.

“Do you think we’ll go back to the same problem we had before going back to the same businesses and residences, the repeat offenders?” City Council member Cari Hermacinski asked.

Rae said that he thought the number of false alarms had plateaued and that the city had worked to reduce alarms from repeat violators. He said the city still would have a system in place to work with new violators.

“Overall, there is a reduced level of false alarms,” he said. “We think there needs to be something, but certainly we’d like to see what we have changed a little bit.”

Rae said he would like to present a revised ordinance in early April.

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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