The Stowe Select Board will hold a public hearing Dec. 9 on allowing the town to fine people for failing to comply with rules related to firefighting.

The board is mulling changes in the 14-year-old fire alarm ordinance, to boost the fines for false alarms and allow the town to impose fines for failing to post an address or have a lockbox to allow firefighters to get into a building.

Now, the town can impose fines for false alarms related to lack of maintenance of the alarm system. There is no fine for a first offense; a second offense within a six-month period can cost $100; third and fourth or subsequent offenses can cost $250 and $500 respectively.

Now, property owners are required to visibly post their E-911 addresses and to install a lockbox containing a key to allow entry to the property. However, unlike false alarms, there’s no penalty for failing to do those things.

The proposed ordinance — online at bit.ly/stowefireordinance — increases the fines, and allows fines to be levied for failing to comply with the address and lockbox requirements. Fines for repeat offenses can range from $200 to $800, with enforcement by the Vermont Judicial Bureau.

The fine would be levied on the property owner; tenants wouldn’t have to pay.

People can contest fines in court, or can pay a waiver fee, which is less than the cost of the fine. Under the proposed ordinance, waiver fees would range from $100 to $700.

“For some time, we’ve had issues with addresses not being visible, and not being able to access a building, so that we have to either gain entry by force or decide we don’t want to assume the liability and walk away,” said Stowe Fire Chief Kyle Walker. He estimated that fewer than 50 percent of buildings have the recommended lockbox.

The fire department recommends the Knox Box brand of lockbox, which allows a firefighter with a master key to get into the box and obtain a key to open the door. A Knox Box retails for about $60.

False alarms are also a challenge for department morale, said Town Manager Charles Safford.

“It can really frustrating,” Safford told the select board. “We’ve had people quit over this.”

According to the most recent town report, for 2018, the department received 185 false alarms — 122 that were unintentional and 63 that were the result of an alarm-system malfunction.

“Our volunteers are very happy to be members of the department and to serve the community,” Walker said. “All we’re doing is asking property owners to meet us halfway.”

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