ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Alpharetta officials squared off Monday over an ordinance that one council member called “cumbersome, burdensome and clumsy.”
Yet, in the end, the City Council approved a measure 4-3 that will penalize hotels that accumulate a certain number of 911 call responses in a year.
The issue cropped up earlier this year when Councilman Jason Binder recommended the city take steps to address a minority of hotels who draw a proportionally higher share of emergency responses than other overnight operations. Alpharetta currently has 25 hotels, and officials have cited only four of the operations appear to be a problem.
The latest iteration of the ordinance under discussion May 6 established three tiers for hotels based on the number of calls for service placed per 100 rooms.
Tier 1 hotels would be those that record 30 or fewer calls per calendar year per 100 rooms. A 100-room hotel, for example, would be allowed 30 calls for service a year without incurring a penalty.
Tier 2 hotels would be those with a ratio of from 31-42 calls per calendar year per 100 rooms, and Tier 3 would be those operations with more than 42 service calls a year per 100 rooms.
Calls made by employees or agents of the hotels would not be counted.
Those hotels who fall into Tier 2 or 3 would face permit fees, ranging from $1,500 to $5,000.
In addition, the proposed ordinance required Tier 3 hotels to employ an off-duty police officer to be stationed on the property during the evening hours of weekdays and throughout the weekend.
Councilman Johns Hipes objected to the provisions, arguing that most 911 calls for service to hotels involve medical issues where an ambulance is summoned. He said it was unreasonable to hold hotel operators accountable for the condition of their customers.
Further, Hipes said the security provision for Tier 3 hotels would force operators to hire a police officer, an expense that could cost that operator up to $248,000 a year, based on the standard rate.
Hipes also questioned the administrative burden of tracking whether a 911 call came from a hotel employee or a guest.
“We do not have a hotel crime problem,” Hipes said. “We may have disproportionate crime — which is a percentage basis — in a few hotels.”
He called the document “cumbersome, burdensome and clumsy,” placing a blanket policy over the entire hotel industry.
“I don’t believe it accomplishes the lofty goals that it sets out to do,” he added.
Councilman Dan Merkel agreed.
“This is as twisted up as a tackle box,” he said, noting that the ordinance had not been initiated by the Public Safety Department. A lot more time and effort ought to go into the wording of an ordinance that addresses crime in the 25th safest city in the country, he said.
Councilman Donald Mitchell spoke in favor of the ordinance, although he called out his own reservations. Law enforcement agencies encourage citizens to be alert and notify authorities of suspicious activity, he said. The idea that a hotel operator could be penalized for a customer’s sound citizen action flies in the face of civic duty, he said.
Deliberations on the ordinance ran close to an hour before a majority on the council voted for approval.
Binder said he’d spent nine months working on the document and delaying action was “inconceivable,” given that he couldn’t get some council members to participate in earlier meetings to discuss it.
“I’ve jumped through every hoop, every straw man that you’ve had, and you’re right… we’re a safe city, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have issues that we can’t address,” Binder said.
The final draft, which passed on a 4-3 vote, carried an array of revisions:
Emergency medical calls were eliminated from a hotel’s call for service count.
The annual permit fee for Tier 2 hotels was reduced from $1,500 to $1.
The number of hours required for Tier 3 hotels to employ an off-duty police officer was reduced from 108 to 42 hours per week.
Those hotels falling within Tiers 2 and 3 shall be required to obtain valid identification and vehicle information for all guests.
After one year of implementation, the city will perform a review on the effectiveness of the ordinance and its reception among hotel operators and the community.
Mayor Jim Gilvin joined council members Hipes and Merkel in opposing the adoption of the ordinance.
Council members Karen Richard, Ben Burnett, Mitchell and Binder voted in favor.