Budget Weary Toronto to Increase Fines for False Fire Alarms


Residents and business owners here are facing the prospect of being fined $350 for false fire alarm dispatches as city officials scramble to adopt increased user fees and other measures to offset a projected revenue shortfall in Toronto’s proposed 2010 operating budget.

The steep false dispatch penalty, a part of the city’s efforts to wipe out an estimated $382 million budget deficit, would be levied along with increases in property taxes, business taxes and service cuts.

While the final proposed budget will next be discussed by the city council in mid-April, JF Champagne, executive director of the Canadian Security Association (CANASA), tells SSI city leaders are pushing hard to amend Toronto’s false dispatch policy.

Residents and businesses are allowed one dispatch without penalty. All successive false fire alarms are then fined $250 per false dispatch. However, repeat offenders are given the opportunity to be refunded if efforts are made to address the problem, such as undergoing system inspections and equipment repairs.

“In the proposed budget the fire department is now going to charge for all false alarms with no provisions to be refunded,” Champagne says.

Toronto expects to send out 10,000 false alarm invoices per year, generating $6.6 million after a financial analyst and accounting assistant are hired to process them.

According to a report in the Toronto Star, budget documents show user fees will generate an additional $13 million, but $9 million of that is from new fees, most of which will come from alarm abusers. (The change is expected to generate only $4.7 million in 2010 because, if passed by council along with the rest of the budget, it won’t go into effect until May 1.)

Almost $900,000 of the alarm fees are expected to be billed to a city housing agency because 14 percent of false alarms come from public housing sites, according to the newspaper.

The amended false fire alarm bylaw comes on the heels of a significant increase to the city’s penalty for false intrusion alarms. On Feb. 1, the Toronto Police Services Board voted to increase the fine for intrusion false alarms to $130 from $86.50.

Most onerous about the increase is central station operators are mandated to pay the fines, not the end user, Champagne says. News of the amended policy came suddenly.

“We only had four business days to notify consumers before the rate increase took place. It has already taken effect but we will be presenting to the board and extend our partnership to them,” he says. “And we are obviously going to question a 40-percent increase in this economy.”

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