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Citing Need for Harsher Penalties, Township Tables False Alarm Law

Matthew Hersh

Don't expect to be able to cry "wolf" anytime soon in Princeton Township.

What it will cost residents or businesses that trigger too many false fire or burglar alarms remains up in the air, however, now that Township Committee has tabled the introduction of a new law that would penalize repeat offenders.

Several members of Committee believe the fines should be harsher than those originally proposed.

As drafted, the proposed law would impose a fine of $100 on anyone with more than one false fire alarm, or three false burglar alarms. Residents or businesses with up to 10 false burglar and fire alarms within a one-year period would be required to disconnect their systems for the remainder of the year, or 90 days, depending on the date of notification.

"It's become more and more difficult for volunteers to respond to all these fire alarms, and go out and realize that they are false alarms," said Edwin Schmierer, Township attorney, adding that the fines would provide "further incentive" to prevent false alarms.

Committeeman Bill Enslin, while "supporting the objectives" of the Fire Department, said not only would he like to see the number of permissible false burglar alarms drop to match the allowable fire alarms, but that $100 was not enough of a fine to stave off false alarms.

"It's really not a deterrent if it doesn't get anybody's attention," Mr. Enslin said, adding that he would support a fine escalation with the understanding that the owner, once the faulty system was repaired, would receive a rebate on the most recent penalty.

"A hundred dollars is a small cost of doing business, and I just don't think that all this will achieve our objectives," he said.

"If you get your system fixed, you get a rebate; if you don't get it fixed, you're going to keep getting fined larger and larger amounts."

Fire Department Chief Pat McAvenia agreed, saying that the primary goal was to reduce false alarms. "I'm not trying to get any monetary income out of this."

Mr. Enslin also expressed some doubt about the wisdom of a punitive removal of an alarm system after 10 false calls. "I think that sends the wrong message and that we should look for another way," he said, saying that there should be some form of consultation with the Township in lieu of taking one's system offline.

Mayor Phyllis Marchand disagreed somewhat with Mr. Enslin, saying that issuing a rebate could be "bad policy," a point bolstered by Deputy Mayor Bernie Miller, who also said the fine should escalate for repeat offenders.

However, Committeeman Lance Liverman supported the ordinance as originally written. "A hundred dollars is better than nothing," he said. Township Administrator James Pascale recommended taking "a step back" and placing the item on a work session at Committee's next meeting September 12.

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