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TOWNSEND — Voters will be asked to approve a new fire alarm fee schedule during the May 4 town meeting. This fee will affect businesses using a fire alarm monitored by the fire department.

Fire Department Chief Don Klein explained, “The reason I’m implementing the fee structure (is because) I don’t have enough money in my budget,” he said.

“I understand the plight of the businesses, especially at this point in time. I need to supply this service and I cannot do it with the operating money I get from the town,” Klein said.

If the article is approved fire alarm boxes would cost businesses $100 per year. New businesses would be charged a $100 hook-up fee.

He said the fee is minimal when compared to private monitoring services which can cost 12 to 15 times that amount yearly.

Townsend’s current fire alarm monitoring system is aging and difficult to repair, Klein said. The copper-coated steel wire is corroding and expensive to replace.

If a break occurs in a line all of the buildings on the far side of the break are disconnected from the fire station’s monitoring panel on Elm Street.

The breaks can be difficult to find. Klein said some of the call boxes in town are still disabled from the ice storm that hit New England in January 2009.

When a building goes offline he must send a crew of on-call people out to find the break and repair it. These workers cannot respond to a call when they are out on repair duty.

The 20- to 30-year-old monitoring panels at the station are also difficult to keep in good repair. “We do have boards that get fried from time to time. We have one spare board,” he said.

When a board is damaged it is switched out and sent off for repairs. “You can see all the black spots where we had shorts,” he said.

The fees are intended to pay for the department to maintain the current system. The yearly $100 fee will be the only cost to the business from the fire department “irregardless of how many times I have to go out and repair it,” Klein said.

He has not gotten any feedback from local business owners about the plan. “I sent all the businesses a letter outlining the proposal. I’ve heard back from not a single business. My obvious assumption is they’re fine with it,” he said.

He modeled the proposed fee structure on the system in use in Ayer. Other nearby cities have moved to a radio controlled fire alarm system.

Eventually Klein said the town should move to a new radio controlled fire alarm system. If one building goes off-line, no other buildings will be affected.

He explained a radio controlled system would work like the Internet. If the nearest path to the monitoring equipment at the station is not available, the signal will take the next available path.

He presented the idea to other town officials several years ago. “The town administrator and the Finance Committee felt it was too costly to proceed with,” Klein said.