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Cincinnatians who paid city now-unconstitutional security system fees could see refunds coming

On Wednesday, city officials approved moving money for the reimbursements
Cincinnati City Hall
Posted at 5:59 PM, Mar 15, 2023

CINCINNATI — Residents in Cincinnati who paid security system fees to the City of Cincinnati between 2014 and 2021, including false alarm fees, could see reimbursements coming their way in the future.

Cincinnati city council unanimously passed an ordinance on Wednesday that authorized the transfer of $1,480,602.25 from the general fund reserved for "weather-related events, other emergency and one-time needs" to a different account for the purpose of 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. "We don't have a firm timeline but of course intend to provide refunds as quickly and efficiently as possible."

The exact amount owed to taxpayers by the city is still unclear but attorneys for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have estimated it could be close to $3 million.

A lawsuit filed in 2018 by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law on behalf of Vena Jones-Coz and Drew White claimed fees demanded of residents with home security systems and fines for false calls triggered by the systems were a violation of the state's constitution.

The state's highest court agreed and ruled the fees unconstitutional in 2021. The city claimed the fees were to recoup some of the costs incurred by false alarm runs, which can cost taxpayers.

As a result of that 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.

According to the lawsuit, residents who owned a home alarm system had to register their systems and pay $50 every two years. Anyone with an unregistered alarm system could have been fined $100.

In addition to that, false alarms could have come at a steep cost to residents and business-owners alike.

While the city charged no penalties for a resident's first two false alarm calls, the third false alarm call 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 someone's 10th offense.

The First District Court of Appeals ruled this process double-charged taxpayers for police services and "deters citizens from utilizing alarm systems 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.

You can read the full judgement from the court below:

2021-Ohio-4003 by WCPO 9 News on Scribd

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