Letter from Riverhead Police has business owners fuming

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Business owners got this letter saying they had to pay the town $25 if they had an alarm system in their building.

Business owners in Riverhead are seeing red over a letter they received this week from the Riverhead PD instructing them to pay a $25 permit fee to the town if they have an alarm system.

The letter also states businesses must pay an additional $10 annual fee for each subsequent year they have an alarm system, and a business that has more than three false alarms, it will be fined up to $100.

It also reads the $25 annual fee is due by Feb. 28, 2012, nearly a month before the letter went out.

“My alarm doesn’t even go to the police, it goes to my house. So what am I paying for?” fumed one business owner who spoke to the News-Review on the condition of anonymity.

The Town Board debated the false alarm issue for many years, and Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said the town had the permit fee on the books for many years. There were issues with the town’s computer system and confusion with the wording of the town code that prevented the town from enforcing the fee in the past, but that “it’s finally ready now,” Chief Hegermiller said.

“The goal is to reduce false alarms,” he said. “It was tying up emergency response resources.”

The chief also said the police department has been receiving a lot of angry calls since the letter went out.

The February date was a mistake, the chief said, adding that there is no deadline, but businesses should pay the fee “as soon as possible.”

Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio reiterated the chief’s point, saying the town’s emergency service responders, many of whom are volunteers, were receiving a lot of false alarms.

“We don’t want our volunteers having to get up in the middle of the night for false alarms,” she said.

The business owner interviewed by the News-Review said it’s unfair that only businesses and not residences got the fee notice, and added that most people would not be upset with just a fine for false alarms. It’s the fee for owning an alarm that has people peeved.

Town Board members in drafting the law said 70 percent of the false alarms were from businesses. They also said there would be too many residences to keep track of.

Chief Hegermiller and Ms. Giglio both said the purpose of requiring a permit is so there will be a database of businesses with alarms, which would make it easier for emergency responders to know who to call if an alarm goes off.

There also have been some errors, aside from the botched date, in terms of who the letter was sent to.

Linda Hulse, who works in Town Hall but also owns a travel agency business at her home, said she got a letter for a Pulaski Street address that her business hasn’t been at for 10 years. Councilman George Gabrielsen, who owns a farm, said he got four letters.

“Some businesses have called and said they don’t have alarms, but they should still complete the form and send it back,” Chief Hegermiller said. “We’d like to have the contact information in case there is ever a problem at that business.”

The chief said neighboring towns already require the permit.

“I see this being something that at the beginning, we’ll have a lot of work with, but over time, everyone will come down to compliance, and we won’t have a problem,” he said.

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