The City of Cincinnati is drawing closer to reimbursing residents who paid security system fees between 2014 and 2021, including false alarm fees, that were ultimately ruled to be a violation of the state’s constitution.
On Wednesday, the Cincinnati city council unanimously passed an ordinance that authorized the transfer of more than $1.4 million from the general fund that will now be earmarked for payments to satisfy a judgement ruling against the city in November 2021 by Hamilton County’s First District Court of Appeals.
“Moving the money was the first step and the city will next begin identifying residents and developing a refund process,” said Ben Breuninger, deputy director of communications for the city manager’s office, via wcpo.com. “We don't have a firm timeline but of course intend to provide refunds as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
This past December, the city was ordered to refund $3.3 million to residents and businesses that paid to register their security alarms or paid fees for false alarms. The decision followed the conclusion of a class-action lawsuit that began in 2018. In the case, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, which represented the plaintiffs, said more than 23,000 residents and business owners were eligible for refunds between $78 and $312.
The city collected the fees in question from 2014 to 2021, but collected fees for excessive false alarms and for registering business alarms for many years before that. The city claimed the fees were to recoup some of the costs incurred by false alarm dispatches.
According to the lawsuit, residents had to register their alarm system and pay $50 every two years. Anyone with an unregistered alarm system could have been fined $100. Plus, false alarms could also tack on additional fees. Although no fines were levied for a resident’s first two false alarm calls, a third false alarm came with a choice: Pay a $50 fee or take an educational class offered by police. From there, fees rose, capping out at an $800 fee for a 10th offense.
The First District Court of Appeals ruled this process double-charged taxpayers for police services and “deters citizens from utilizing alarm systems to protect themselves, their homes and their property.”
The ruling was unanimous and judges ruled Cincinnati to stop collecting fees that “are a tax, and the imposition of that tax is unconstitutional,” the judgement read. As a result of the judgement, the city is charged with refunding citizens who paid the $50 fee to register an alarm system and possibly more, depending on the penalty charges doled out, wcpo.com reported.