Paradise Valley Town Council OKs legacy alarm system

A view of Paradise Valley Police Chief Peter Wingert presenting the town's alarm monitoring system option to town council on Dec. 1. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

A view of Paradise Valley Police Chief Peter Wingert presenting the town’s alarm monitoring system option to town council on Dec. 1. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

The Paradise Valley Town Council voted to not give up on the police alarm system utilized by hundreds of residents in an attempt to continue searching for a viable business plan to sustain the service.

After several months worth of research and study sessions, the town council voted on the future of the alarm service during its Dec. 1 meeting held at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.

The council voted 5-2 to not terminate the project and to explore additional paths for a hybrid business model for at least the next 60 days to a year. Councilman Paul Dembow and Mary Hamway voted for the termination of the service.

Several residents spoke out at the public comment portion of the meeting to voice their support for the police alarm system.

Since October 2015 Paradise Valley Town Council has been searching for a way to create a cost-neutral alarm system in order to maintain a public safety service offered since 1984.

In recent years the system’s hardware and software has become outdated and on this past New Years Eve the system failed, according to Paradise Valley Police Chief Peter Wingert.

The alarm system today is fully operational through emergency assistance from a private company, but the recent outage that spanned a seven-day period from Dec. 31, 2015 to Jan. 8 illustrates the necessity for repair to the antiquated system, Chief Wingert contends.

For a monthly fee of $35-$50 depending on a number of zones monitored, to have a hardline directly into the Paradise Valley Police Department’s dispatch center for when emergencies occur. If an alarm connected to the Paradise Valley alarm system is tripped, a call for service will ring directly into the department’s dispatch center, town officials say.

The fact that this local alarm system is directly connected to the town’s police department, is something residents and town council members Jerry Bien-Willner and Maria Syms say makes them feel safe.

“I grew up in the Town of Paradise Valley, and when I was 12-years-old, my folks had the alarm monitoring service,” Mr. Bien-Willner recounted during the meeting. “My next door neighbor, believe it or not, was shot six times. And thankfully he didn’t die, but it seemed like he would at the time. My neighbors came over, who were my age, soaked in blood from their dad.”

Mr. Bien-Willner said just knowing his family had the police alarm system was comforting for the next few months after experiencing such a traumatic incident.

“I felt comforted, certainly, that we had that,” he said.

A town service

There are about 200 different alarm services used by residents, with the town having the second-largest market share, according to Chief Wingert.

There are 420 resident subscribers, representing an annual customer loss rate of 13 percent. The peak subscription was in 2008 at 610 contracts. The alarm generates approximately $195,000 in revenue a year, Chief Wingert said, and the alarm fund has a balance around $650,000.

During the Dec. 1 meeting, Chief Wingert shared with the audience three different choices the council had circled around for the past several months.

Option No. 1, coined “Best of all variables,” would include a 12.5 percent rate increase in the first year; at least $308,000 capital infusion from the General Fund over 10 years; and an increase from 350 to 575 subscribers. This option would also net a 10-year operating loss at $871,000, according to Chief Wingert.

Option No. 4, coined “Gradual Termination Strategy,” would include exiting the alarm monitoring service at a certain date; and hiring subscriber advocates to help residents with the transition.

Option No. 5, coined “Competitive ‘All In’ Service,” would include a goal to make Paradise Valley the No. 1 alarm market with 1,500 subscribers; basic and advanced services to customers; three full-time alarm staff plus additional call-takers; and a first-year expense of $1.07 million with additional costs the following years.

Following residents pleas and offers to help town officials market the service and research additional business plans, Councilman Bien-Willner suggested creating a group to work on this issue.

“With $650,000 in the fund, I’d like to try to work to — and not suggesting the models are bad — but I’d like to kick the tires a little harder and see what we can do to come up with something that the council and everybody feels good about, in terms of marketing and other plans,” said Mr. Bien-Willner.

“I don’t think we have better advantages in this town than folks who are actually using the system and if everyone could pick up one more person, you double the subscribership almost immediately. I would commit to try to do that.”

Councilmember Dembow opposed continuing the service, citing it’s a bad business plan.

“We’re losing people year after year after year, even with marketing, so I’m assuming that the survey you said 55 percent would stop using it if we raised prices, I just see this as a train wreck,” said Mr. Dembow. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me and there’s more alternatives for our police.”

Mr. Dembow says he raised five children in the town and always had great response times from the police when there was an emergency at his house, without the alarm monitoring system.

Most residents who use the alarm system have been subscribers for more than 10 years, says Chief Wingert, and the police department knows there are residents who need to upgrade their panel, which has been estimated at a cost of $350-$500, but they don’t know how many need the upgrade.

“I think the biggest problem with our system is our data, and our data is not in any kind of shape that if we have a problem we can’t ask for help,” said Chief Wingert. “So as a result of that when we go down we go down and we can’t get someone to help us quickly.”

The council directed staff to revisit the alarm monitoring service conversation in 60-90 days to provide an update.

News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be reached by e-mail at mrosequist@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Mrosequist_

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