PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council has opened up a can of worms when it comes to false alarms.
The Police Department had come to the council with a fairly straightforward request: require those with burglar alarms to register with the city annually. The department's records are out of date and officials wanted to find a way to keep up with those records.
Chief Information Officer Mike Steben had taken the project on and found that officers were responding to around 1,500 false-alarm calls per year — requiring two officers at a time. Often businesses had moved and taken alarm systems with them, and officers were responding to the wrong address. Other times, officers are going back to the same business every day because of faulty equipment.
The city already has ordinances in place for false alarms: a warning on the first occasion, $25 on the second, $50 on the third, and $100 per incident with the fourth and beyond. However, the department's computer system isn't integrated with the tax collector's system so any fines issued become a nightmare to collect and track. So the city stopped fining people for false alarms.
The city also had a one-time registration fee of $25. Steben first proposed language that would require registration annually instead of just once to help clean up department records. With that, he proposed eliminating the fee. The new language making registration annual and eliminating the one-time fee needs council approval.
Councilors, however, are now having trouble with the rest of the ordinance. In a former job, Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell had overseen dozens of convenience stores throughout the region. He knows firsthand that there are so many things that could trigger an alarm.
"I don't want to penalize the businesses for having good equipment," Connell said.
He said strong winds could shake doors and trigger an alarm; motion detectors could be triggered by heating units turning on and blowing merchandise, or rodents can set off alarms. A customer could come to the door just after closing time, try to open it and set off the alarm. If the city does start fining based on the current ordinance, Connell doesn't think giving business only one "one freebie" is enough.
Steben responded that those instances wouldn't be necessarily be counted as a false alarm. However, that determination is made by the responding officers. He said the officers have the option to log the call as a false alarm or not.
"We approach this with reasonableness and fairness, so that would not get coded as a false alarm," he said.
Connell, however, doesn't like the subjectivity still surrounding the issue. The decision on whether or not to fine is in the hands of the Police Department. Another process needing clarification for councilors is how residents and business owners contest such determinations.
Another issue discussed on Tuesday was a requirement in the current law that all alarms are registered with the city. But the language simply calls for all burglar alarms, which doesn't quite fit with the options provided by today's technology. The language dates back to the early 1990s and now residents can purchase alarms that aren't connected with monitoring companies, and be linked to their own phones. Connell asked about solely audible alarms, such as small ones placed under doors, as well.
Steben was under the impression that even those would have to be registered.
"We really need to know where these alarms are so police officers can respond appropriately," he said. "Historically all alarm systems have been registered."
Maggie Gregory, assistant to the chief of police, disagreed, saying only the monitored alarms — with companies automatically calling and dispatching police — would have to be registered. Otherwise, the small home security systems requiring the owner to call if there is an issue wouldn't have to be registered.
As the council began to get into the weeds, Connell and Councilor Melissa Mazzeo suggested tabling the petition in order to get clarification.
Council President Peter Marchetti, however, reminded the councilors that the items under debate are in the existing ordinance so delaying wouldn't change those at all. Instead, the request put forth by Steben was to simply remove the $25 registration fine and implement a free, annual registration process.
"I think the conversation has been great and I think it needs to be explored," Marchetti said but added there is a different process for the items already in place.
Steben said despite the fines being listed in the ordinance already, he said the department wouldn't enforce those until after a significant public awareness campaign.
Eventually, the council approved the proposal but said the rest of the existing ordinance will have the be re-considered.
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Pittsfield Council's Budget Recommendations Survive Charter Objection
$116,000 in recommended increases were sent to Mayor Linda Tyer on Tuesday in a 7-4 vote with Councilor At Large Karen Kalinowsky, Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren, Kronick, and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio opposing.
This includes an additional $1,000 to the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP,) $65,000 for school maintenance, $50,000 to the building inspector's department, and a recommendation for the Pittsfield Police Department to earmark up to $250,000 in grant money to have additional clinicians as co-responders.
A correction to the finance department that increased the budget by nearly $117,000 was also included.
With the amendments, the budget totals $188,822,018.
Maffuccio said that Pittsfield is a poor community with many elderly residents, low-income families, struggling working-class people with families, and homeless people that cannot afford the budget increases that fall back on taxpayers.
"The mayor is out of touch with the average citizen of this community," he said. "I think she forgot what kind of community she's dealing with here."
After some back and forth with City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta questioning the legality of this vote —which Pagnotta confirmed was legal— Kronick said that the budget did not prepare the city for a recession and high inflation.
He told the story of a constituent, on a fixed income, who could not pay his bills because the city reportedly continues to tax him on a pool he has not used in 30 years.
"He grew up in his house, he owns it now, and now the city basically is on the verge of owning it, and there it goes. His American dream, right down the trash toilet," Kronick said.
"...And that's because we are asking too much money of these people. We are building our grid, growing our government beyond the means of our people who support it, and are not getting what they need back in order for them to be able to pay their bills back to the city to get this done. I think that's immoral."
Kalinowsky pointed out that she recommended adding $65,000 to the school building maintenance department but wanted to see reductions in other line items.
"I was disappointed to see that there was no reduction in any of the line items. That should have been reduced because we are not being fiscally responsible in this budget," she said.
"We are not putting the money where it needs to be and where the economy's going. I just can't encourage this budget."
Councilor At Large Earl Persip III highlighted the accomplishments of the budget and advocated for the panel's right to vote on it. Persip said that all 11 councilors were elected and almost had their ability to make a mark on the budget taken away, which he did not think was appropriate.
"You can sit up here and tell us that you felt more things should be subtracted, but you would have to convince six other people that's the case," he said. "We're also elected by the citizens of Pittsfield."
Councilor At-Large Pete White said that starving the budget is not the solution to issues within the city.
"I'll admit we have issues in the city that need to be solved. The way to solve those is to continue to improve the city," he said.
"It's not to underfund the budget or to pass budgets that don't have the resources in them to do what we need to do."
Kronick took the stand during open microphone to address the media's reporting of his charter objection. He spoke of being called "transphobic and homophobic" by a city official after he said trans people go against his religious beliefs during a budget deliberation on the office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion in May.
During open microphone Tuesday, Kronick cited parts of the bible that he thought the use of "pronoun training" violated. He said that it discriminated against those of the Judeo and Christian faith.
"I recently witnessed modeling gender identity language to the first graders and older at Morningside Elementary School and that's a regular, ongoing thing," Kronick added. "So now the faithful have to teach their children to violate the fifth commandment."
He said the criticism of his comments was religious anti-semitism.
The Parks Commission received the lifesaving device last Tuesday after it was offered to the city several months ago. An AED is used to treat cardiac arrest by sending an electric shock to the heart and restoring a normal rhythm.
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The event titled "Innovating for The Future" sought to expand the company's supply chain in the state and further GD's relationship with the community by strengthening the local industrial sector.
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The 8-foot work was created by the Railroad Street Youth Project in Great Barrington and is titled "Rooted in Connection." It was unveiled over the weekend at the city's first Juneteenth festival in Durant Park, where the project's other murals are displayed.
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Though the motion made by Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick "on behalf of Ward 2" adopted the originally presented budget by default, the council will be able to vote on the $116,000 of recommended increases on Tuesday.
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