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Algonquin to end fire alarm-monitoring program

Published: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 2:13 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 11:51 p.m. CDT

ALGONQUIN – By July 30, the roughly 440 commercial and multifamily properties that are part of the village’s wireless alarm monitoring program will have to find a private vendor to monitor their fire alarms.

The village is in the process of settling a lawsuit filed in federal court by Alarm Detection Systems, which called the system a monopoly and asked that it be ended so private alarm contractors could freely compete for commercial accounts.

As part of the settlement, the village changed its ordinance and no longer requires commercial properties to directly connect to the village wireless alarm monitoring system. The Village Board on Tuesday approved the change.

Village Attorney Kelly Cahill said settling the lawsuit and making the change was a business decision.

“While I didn’t agree that we didn’t have the authority to do it, I think we did under home rule, we didn’t want to take on battle,” Cahill said. “It was a business decision not to fight it.”

Cahill said she couldn’t estimate how much the village would have spent fighting the lawsuit.

“I could’ve filed some motions, but you can never guarantee a judge is going to take that way out or whether they want to go through discovery,” Cahill said.

Whether this would spread to other communities, such as McHenry, Crystal Lake and Woodstock, which have similar programs, is unclear. ADS wouldn’t comment on whether it would file additional lawsuits.

Businesses in Algonquin will be able to choose to go to any private vendor they want to monitor their alarms.

“We’ll be sending notices out to them explaining we’re not providing that service anymore, and they need to find their own private vendor,” Cahill said.

The deadline to find someone to monitor fire alarms will be July 30.

Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection Chief Patrick Mullen said notices are scheduled to go out to subscribers Thursday.

Subscribers in Lake in the Hills, Huntley, Cary and Barrington Hills, who voluntarily joined the system, will have to find new companies to monitor their alarms as well, Mullen said.

Last year, a federal appeals court in a case involving ADT Security Systems and the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District found that the fire district did not have the statutory authority to own the signaling equipment or to assess fees to maintain the alarm-monitoring system.

After that case, the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District handed over ownership of its monitoring system to the village of Algonquin, which required all commercial properties in the village to make a direct connection to the wireless monitoring system.

The village was sued shortly after the transfer.

“As far as we’re concerned, this is a great step,” said Kevin Lehan, the executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association, which has just under 100 members mostly in the Chicago area, including ADS. “It opens the market to true competition.”

The settlement also allows each business to keep the Algonquin equipment, and allows an alarm company to reprogram it to send a signal to a central station, or bring in its own equipment.

Lehan said he didn’t know whether other municipalities would face lawsuits from alarm companies.

ADS attorney Nick Bonifas said a settlement to the lawsuit had been in the works since it was filed. He did say the company was prepared to litigate the case in court. Currently businesses pay Algonquin $80 a month for alarm monitoring.

Bonifas said pricing will vary from vendor to vendor, but estimated commercial property owners to save as much as $3,000 over the course of five years on alarm monitoring.

“I think us, and [the] rest of industry, will be out competing to convince customers [we’re] the best for the job, with the best service and best pricing, which is what we wanted all along,” Bonifas said.

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