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Article Directory - Fort Lauderdale might need to repay citizens for False Alarm fines Collected

According to an August 18 story in the South Florida Times, town officials are more than a little nervous about the prospect of repaying residents and company owners who were allegedly overcharged for faulty alarms to the tune of more than $450,000 in 2008 alone. Further, some argue the city's practice of allegedly overcharging on false alarm citations goes back to at least 2004, and possibly constitutes a breach of the Florida State Constitution. If this is proven a violation, the effects of the practice might be wide reaching and devastating.

Scott W. Leeds, senior managing partner of the Miami branch of The Cochran Firm says the case in Fort Lauderdale will almost certainly spur lawsuits looking for refunds, and could establish a precedent of greater ordinance scrutiny. Leeds suggests that municipalities and corporations, at times, will take liberties that they're not entitled to. He believes this somewhat usual practice is going to be examined both by auditors of the different municipalities and the very creative attorneys around the state, perhaps even nationwide. The real problem in Fort Lauderdale lies in the discrepancy between a fee and a fine. Industry consultant Les Gold of law firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp explained Fort Lauderdale is obviously imposing either a fee or a fine; if a fee, it is exorbitant and therefore illegal, and if a fine, it is illegal because there is no due process. Under the Constitution, if a fine is levied, the constituent must have the chance to question it. Fort Lauderdale has no such location to ensure citizens are given their right to appeal, which means any citizen fined is being denied constitutional rights, according to this interpretation. Additionally, the city's false disturbance fee schedule tops out at nearly three times the actual cost (according to the South Florida Times article) to the town for response to an alarm. City auditor John Herbst said he has been trying without success for over a year to have the ordinance reexamined by city commissioners.

SIAC head Ron Walters feels the case in Fort Lauderdale is out of hand. Mr. Walters indicated that, for many years, a flat $25 response fee was charged, which did nothing to reduce dispatches and didn't even cover the cost to respond. Walters went on to say that a full ordinance review was suggested, but ultimately was turned down. SIAC director Stan Martin agreed and said the situation might have been avoided if city officials would just paying attention.

Devcon exec of operations Roy Pollack who is past president of the Alarm Association of Florida said the industry should not be affected by the false disturb flap in Fort Lauderdale. Pollack suggested that it's basically a debate of reviewing the records, and reexamining the charges to be sure that they were assessed in compliance. City spokesperson Jeff Modarelli said the town is aware of the issue and plans are in place to reevaluate the ordinance. Modarelli said that plans have been designed to bring this issue back to the commission in the near future.

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