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Published On: 2/28/13

Salisbury OKs New Travel Rules, Lower False Alarm Violation Fees

By: Staff Writer via Maryland Coast Dispatch

SALISBURY – Business items regarding council rules and regulations and false alarm fees returned to the Salisbury City Council this week after being postponed previously for more discussion.

When the City Council met in legislative session earlier this month, approvals to amend the Salisbury City Council Regulations and Rules of Order travel policy as well as amend false alarm fees associated with emergency services response were postponed after certain council members asked to have the items removed from the agenda for further discussion. Following last week’s work session the items returned to the council this week for final action.

The resolution amending the Council Regulations and Rules of Order regarding travel policy was first discussed in January. Council President Terry Cohen explained the amendment is to ensure that no member of council shall use no more than one-fifth of the appropriated total of the council’s travel and training budget to make sure that all council members have an equitable opportunity to make use of those funds, and that the travel is not to be done without the prior approval of the council.

Cohen pointed out that a few years ago when the city began to go through hard times the administration and individual departments made cuts and sacrifices to save funds. The council did the same and limited elected officials to $1,000 each for travel and training.

“We would love for there to be more, but just like everyone at home with their pocket book they have to set priorities and say where the most value is where they should be spending the money,” she said.

Councilman Tim Spies added the council has come to an agreement where this is some give and take when it comes to the money being split among the five council members, for those who wish to attend meetings or training sessions when others are not.

‘The idea is to have the council be collaborative with the use of those funds,” Cohen said.

The council voted 4-0, with Councilwoman Laura Mitchell absent, to approve the resolution amending the City Council Regulations and Rules of Order.

The next item to return to council was an ordinance that will amend false alarm fees resulting in emergency service response and designated certain reoccurring false alarms within the same calendar year at the same property location as municipal infractions. The issue has been postponed while the council awaited a new and significantly less fee structure to be formed.

In the past, City Administrator John Pick has explained the city police and fire departments experience a severe drain on their resources making repeated responses to the same properties in response to false alarms.

For many years, the city has had an ordinance that included a graduated fee schedule for fire and police false alarms. The purpose of the fee schedule is to encourage property owners to maintain and use their alarm systems to reduce the incidence of false alarms.

The city had determined the former fee schedule exceeds the actual cost for either the police or fire departments to respond to false alarms and in order to ensure enforcement of the fee schedule the fees should not exceed the cost to respond.

The former ordinance stated if the fire and/or police departments respond to more than two false alarms at the same location within a calendar year response fees will be charged to the property owner.

Each billable false alarm response was a $25 administrative processing fee in addition to the false alarm response fee. Failure to pay fees within 90 days of notification of the violation will result in a lien against the real property until the fees are satisfied.

For any violation occurring after the fourth false alarm response by the same responding department within the same calendar year, the property owner will then be guilty of a municipal infraction and subject to a fine of $500 to $1,000 for each offense.

The new fee structure allows for the first and second false alarm in a calendar year at no charge. The third and any subsequent false alarm on a calendar year will have a $25 administrative fee, a $246 charge for police response, and a $272 charge for fire response

“This is a significant, and I mean a seriously significant decrease in the charge for false alarms,” Spies said.

The council voted 4-0 to approve the ordinance to amend false alarm fees in second reading and a subsequent ordinance to set the false alarm fee structure in first reading.

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