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Board considers false-alarm crackdown

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Fire officials want increased fine for residents who cry wolf more than four times in a year

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors is entertaining an idea to put a higher price tag on those who are not truthful.

Fire Marshal David Ferguson spoke to the panel Tuesday morning about changing county code as it relates to fees for false alarms. The proposed change would increase the fee from $25 to $50 for the owner of any device that leads to more than four false alarms in a 12-month period.

Also, the owner would be required to pay restitution, which would help offset costs that volunteer agencies absorb when responding to a false alarm. Ferguson said operating a fire engine can cost $150 per hour.

Most owners are willing to work with the county when there are problems with alarms, but there have been some who would rather pay the $25 fee than take care of the issue, he said.

"That puts the county in a bind," Ferguson said.

He discussed a problem the county had with the previous owners of Valley Vista Apartments, which produced about 130 false-alarm calls a year. Ferguson's father, District 3 Supervisor David Ferguson, said those calls "almost became a joke."

"But you had to go," the elder Ferguson said.

People Inc., the county's community action agency, now owns Valley Vista and has a new alarm system.

It will be the fire marshal's discretion to enforce fines. The younger Ferguson said as long as an owner shows that he or she is working diligently to fix the problem, the fine may not be issued. He said it's rare for an owner to have more than four false alarms in a year, if he or she is trying to remedy it.

The proposed changes will be subjects of a public hearing next month.

Also Tuesday, the board:

• Heard from Assistant County Administrator Mary Beth Price that substantial completion for the new courthouse behind the County Government Center is scheduled for the end of April, meaning it could be occupied by late May.

Building inspector Tim Ferguson said the project is 26 days behind schedule. Cold weather has prevented workers from putting glue on the roof and kept masons from being able to do much of anything, he said.

• Read aloud a letter County Administrator Doug Walker wrote to Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, and U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Jim Webb, D-Va., in response to the shooting of a congresswoman in Arizona last weekend.

The letter thanks the men for their service and commends them for their "fundamental courage."

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