Town Board Tables Vote on Amending Alarm Code

Residents from The Retreat crowded the Town Hall meeting room to listen to the Town Board discuss revamping the code on pull-string alarms. Credits: Bob Dumas

MAHOPAC, N.Y.— By a 4-1 vote, the Town Board tabled amending a town code that would eliminate the $40 permit fee for homes—primarily condos and townhouses in senior housing projects—that have pull-string alarms not connected to a central monitoring station.

Town officials said last month that they need more time to figure out a billing procedure for alarm permits to avoid charging those who will no longer fall under the parameters of the law once it is amended.

The issue came before the board back in July when a contingent of angry senior citizens from The Retreat in Carmel said the annual fee was unfair and not in the spirit of the law.

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In December 1992, the Town of Carmel passed a local code that calls for residents to pay an annual alarm permit fee—currently $40—if such a device is installed in their home.

Chapter 37 of the code, Alarm Devices and Systems, states that no residence or business shall “install or maintain any police and/or fire alarm device… without having obtained a permit from the permitting authority.”

The amended code redefines what an alarm is:

“Any device, which when activated by fire or any other emergency, transmits a signal…directly to any law enforcement facility or centrally stationed monitoring facility for the purposes of eliciting a response…”

Since the pull-string devices do not transmit a signal or are connected to a central monitoring facility, they would no longer be considered “alarms” under the code’s new definition and, therefore, no longer subject to a permit fee.

“I would like to table [voting on the code amendment] until we determine a format and process on how we will determine how many have the alarms that are monitored by a central station,” said Supervisor Ken Schmitt at the Jan. 11 meeting. “We don’t know how we are going to do that. I understand the spirit of the law; I get that. However, [the amendment] is creating an issue. It’s not as easy as just amending the law. We have an execution problem.

“Logistically, this could be difficult for the comptroller’s office, which processes the alarm [permits] each year,” he continued. “How do we determine who has that type (centrally monitored) of system? We trust that when we send these forms out that [homeowners] will indicate [if they have an alarm that needs a permit]. We will ask for voluntary compliance. I like to trust that they will be honest, but some are and some aren’t.”

Councilman Frank Lombardi, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said he felt figuring out a billing protocol shouldn’t be all that complicated.

“We know where these pull alarms exist. They exist in the senior housing—approximately 800 to 900 homes,” he said. “So, when we send out the bill we [include] a page with a check box and if they have a monitored alarm then they [check the box] and pay the fee. If they lie, they lie. What are are you going to do? It sounds to me we are making it more complicated than it needs to be. We are not looking at 10,000 parcels; we are not going across the town looking at alarms. Only certain residences have pull alarms and we know where they are.”

Town attorney Greg Folchetti said the pull-string alarms were initially part of a condition that enabled developers to get a permit for senior housing.

“All the senior housing projects were automatically billed the fee because it was part of the special permit itself and they all fit the definition,” Folchetti explained.  “They thought the alarms were best for the demographic (senior citizens) they were marketing to and their safety. Three or four years ago, it was discovered they weren’t getting the [alarm permit fees] so the billing was imposed. But now it’s come to this point.”

Councilwoman Suzy McDonough said she was surprised there was no billing system already in place since the board has been contemplating the issue since last summer.

“We have been discussing this law for over a year and it just seems very strange to me that tonight, suddenly, this lightbulb went off and we said, ‘How are we going to do this?’” she said. “I am perplexed because it’s the first that I am hearing about it and it is at the [11th] hour.”

Schmitt countered that he has been warning the board for a long time that a system would need to be put in place if the town amended the law.

“A lightbulb did not just go off in my mind,” he said. “I have been saying this all along but maybe people haven’t been listening.”

Schmitt said he is working with the assessor’s office to see if it can determine who resides in units with pull-string alarms.

“But we haven’t gotten to that point yet,” he said. “But I think that is how we are going to determine who does and who doesn’t [have an alarm that needs a permit]. Bills should have gone out by now, but we are holding them.”

The supervisor said that as soon as a billing protocol has been devised, the vote on the proposed code amendment will be put back on the agenda.

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