The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 12, 2012

Conneaut plagued by high cost of false alarms

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — City officials in Conneaut are working to put the clamps on costly false alarms and excessive calls that originate from the same address.

At Tuesday night's meeting of City Council's public safety committee, chairman and Ward 4 Councilman Thomas Kozesky said dozens of unnecessary calls cause wear-and-tear on fire and police equipment and run up fuel bills. Bogus or repetitive calls also expose safety personnel to accidents and compromise coverage in other parts of town, officials said.

Administrators are looking at legislation that could assess fines for repeat offenders.

All would be forgiven for the first incident, while a second occurrence could result in a letter from the city, Kozesky said. "You probably wouldn't be fined until the third or consecutive (infractions)," he said.

 Over the past several months, the police department has answered 128 false alarms while the fire department has responded to 88 such alarms, the fire calls coming primarily from Conneaut Manor on Harbor Street and the senior citizen building at Highland Apartments.

In many cases, the false alarms result from equipment malfunctions which can be corrected, council members learned.

Safety departments are also dealing with excessive calls from the same address, often for reasons that don't require emergency response. "Some people call non-stop," said Police Chief Charles Burlingham.

There are people and businesses in town who don't hesitate to call for assistance on matters they could handle on their own, said City Manager Tim Eggleston. "Excessive calls falls under the category of abuse," he said.

Law Director David Schroeder said the city must be careful when detailing the difference between calls. "How do you define a nuisance or  excessive call?" he said.

Eggleston said the legislation isn't geared to make money but to "nip some problems in the bud."

Ashtabula has a good ordinance dealing with the issue that Conneaut should study, Kozesky said. "It seems to be working well for them," he said.

In other business, administrators say they will study a possible problem with price-gouging involving a wrecker service periodically used by the police department. One operator apparently charges a rate twice that of other businesses on the department's tow list, Burlingham said.

The city will see if price controls, along with some other requirements, can be legislated.

"There's got to be some reasonability to it," he said.

Barry Goodrich, warden at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, was scheduled to address the committee Tuesday, but did not appear.