South Hill council approves false alarms fines

The South Hill Town Council on Monday unanimously approved a “False Alarms Ordinance” that will impose fees for failure to repair in a timely manner malfunctioning alarm systems that automatically trigger emergency response.
“The reason we need to do this is because our fire department alone had responded to over 160 calls that were false alarms in the last two years, and as you might imagine these are very expensive things to deal with for the town,” Town Manager Kim Callis said, noting the average cost of responding to a fire call is more than $800. “So 160 times $800, it adds up.”
Callis said the ordinance dictates that during a calendar year, there is no fee for the first three responses that are caused by a malfunctioning alarm system, however the fourth would induce a $100 fine, the fifth a $250 fine and the sixth and subsequent responses a $500 fine.
The calendar year as related to this ordinance starts over each January.
During a public hearing on the matter, A.L. Jones, who operates a barber shop on W. Atlantic Street, clarified that the ordinance does not refer to malfunctioning smoke detectors, as long as the smoke detector is not connected to emergency responders through an alarm system.
“You always have trouble with smoke detectors and this sort of thing, but this is not the smoke detectors you’re talking about?” Jones asked.
South Hill Fire Chief Rosser Wells answered, “When we go to somebody’s house for a smoke detector going off and it’s a low battery or something like that, that doesn’t count in this right here.”
Callis added, “The smoke detector is not an alarm system.”
Callis said the fines would help defray the cost of emergency response for false alarms. He said the ordinance is similar to what other localities have adopted.
In response to a question from a woman during the public hearing, Callis said fines collected would be deposited in the town’s general fund, since the town largely funds the fire department.
In response to a question from Councilman Ben Taylor, Wells said false alarm calls that were due to a malfunctioning alarm system have decreased since the proposed ordinance was first reported in the South Hill Enterprise after the council’s October regular meeting.
Councilman Mike Moody noted one of the businesses in town that had many false alarm calls due to a malfunctioning alarm system has already started the process of repairing its alarm system.
Callis said if an entity fails to pay its fines under the ordinance, the fines will accrue interest and the property could be subject to a lien. The fines must be paid prior to renewal of a business license.