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Proposed noise ordinance remains under debate

GATESVILLE – On ongoing effort over the past several months to establish a noise ordinance in Gates County bears further study.

At an Oct. 6 meeting, Commissioner Henry Jordan, who has led the effort to establish guidelines to control the level of noise in the county, again reminded his colleagues that the local Citizens Against OLF group had came before the county commissioners asking for the ordinance.

“They feel it would really enhance their efforts if there was a noise ordinance in place, one that specifies noise limits,” Jordan said.

Jordan said establishing noise limits helps the sheriff’s department by not forcing them to only go by sensory perception.

“With such established limits, it allows them (law enforcement officials) to know whether or not a complaint is legitimate,” Jordan stated. “I know that Sheriff (Ed) Webb has had some concerns about the (noise gauging) instruments, but I see other counties have implemented noise ordinances, Camden County in particular, and they have noise monitoring devices. As a matter of fact, their maximum (noise) level is actually lower than what we are proposing.”

Jordan produced a copy of Camden County’s noise ordinance, one showing a maximum level of 85 decibels. Gates County is proposing 100 decibels.

“I would propose the board move forward to schedule a public hearing to adopt a noise ordinance,” Jordan suggested. “We have refined ours a few times and if the Sheriff wants us to continue to tweak it to make this more palatable, we can entertain those ideas.”

Jordan said he completely understood that every time a person is brought to court to answer to a noise ordinance violation, the judge may or may not agree with why the person was charged.

“But if we have an ordinance on the books it acts as a deterrent…it lets everyone know what exceeds the limit and law abiding citizens will adhere to what those limits are,” Jordan said. “Taking someone to court is the last resort.”

Sheriff Webb offered his input over the matter.

“I understand what ya’ll are trying to do and if you all decide to enact this we will enforce it,” Webb said.

However, Webb said that after showing the draft copy of the noise ordinance to local District Attorney Frank Parrish, he had some concerns over some of the wording in regards to prosecuting these cases in the courtroom.

“Mr. Parrish asked about the established guidelines in the ordinance on the decibel readings,” Webb said. “The ordinance now states that the daily noise level will be evaluated using a community noise evaluation instrument over a 24-hour period. We need to have that done and there will be a cost to establish a standard. Mr. Parrish wants to know who is responsible for establishing that standard.

“Secondly, Mr. Parrish asked about the calibration of the instrument,” Webb continued. “We checked on that…the cost of the instrument is not that bad, it’s the cost of the calibration kits that is concerning.”

Webb added that Parrish informed several attorneys in the local area of Gates County’s proposed noise ordinance.

“They said they saw some loopholes in the ordinance that could create problems later on in the courtroom,” Webb remarked. “Later in talking with Judge Bean, our Senior District Court Judge, he said he saw some wording in the ordinance that he did not quite understand.”

Under the violations and penalties section of the proposed ordinance, Webb noted that fines were listed as a $50 civil penalty.

“The ordinance now reads if payment is not received within 60 days of a citation issued for a noise ordinance violation, the matter shall be turned over to the county attorney for a civil action to recover the penalties,” Webb said. “The cost of court to get a civil penalty processed is $86. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that we’re losing money that way.”

Webb suggested that the fine be listed as a criminal action rather than civil. He noted that a criminal summons comes without a processing fee.

“I’m all for what you all are trying to do, but apparently there are a few issues with this ordinance the way it is currently written and we need to clarify that wording,” Webb stated.

Jordan asked Webb if he would be willing to work with the commissioners in properly re-wording the ordinance, especially the concerns the Sheriff, District Attorney, Judge Bean and attorneys had on this issue.

“I’ll be glad to,” Webb said. “As a matter of fact, Mr. Parrish said he would be happy to address the board over this, but due to his busy schedule because he has seven counties that he is responsible for, he would prefer to come to one of our night (commissioner) meetings.”

Gatesville attorney Pitt Godwin, who serves as legal counsel to the commissioners, said he would contact Parrish and Judge Bean for their individual recommendations over how to make the proposed ordinance stronger.

“That’s my concern here,” Webb concluded. “If you all go to the trouble to enact this and then I or one of my deputies go charge someone under the way the ordinance is currently written, then the first time we lose a case in court or have a case thrown out over a technicality, then we’ve all wasted our time and efforts.”

Jordan said he would like to see Sheriff Webb, Godwin and County Manager Toby Chappell further tweak the wording of the ordinance in light of the legal concerns.

“Based on their changes, let’s move forward on this,” Jordan said.

Commissioner Wade Askew suggested that farming and forestry equipment noise guidelines need to be completely removed from the current ordinance.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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