Noise Ordinance Stalls at Second Reading

WINNSBORO (Oct. 30, 2015) – County Council’s revised noise ordinance, which has been in the works since last April, was derailed Monday night before second reading, forcing the Chairwoman to call for a special work session.

“Nobody I have talked to wants this ordinance passed,” District 5 Councilman Marion Robinson said during Monday’s meeting.

Robinson said he was concerned that the revised ordinance would hinder private skeet shooting and other sport shooting on private property. But Councilman Billy Smith (District 7), who serves on the Public Affairs and Policies Committee that worked up the new ordinance, said the new law contains ample exemptions to allow for firearms and other exceptions.

“The exemption there (for clay sporting) says ‘noise associated with legal operation of any firearm at any shooting club, range, business, hunt club, clay sporting location or event,’ so ‘event’ does away with the notion or the thought that it’s only a business,” Smith said. “An ‘event’ can be me and a couple of buddies in my back yard. It doesn’t have to be a sanctioned event.”

Robinson, however, said the ordinance should contain a definition for ‘event,’ “because I sure did not get that out of that.”

“I do not think in any way, shape or form I could understand that an event is me and a couple of my buddies going and doing that,” Robinson said.

District 1 Councilman Dan Ruff agreed and said he did not want to see Council make things “too governmental and too strict.”

“I would like to see us maintain noise by our officers talking to people and dealing with issues as they come up,” Ruff said. “I don’t think we need to make things so complicated.”

But leaving noise complaints solely to the discretion of Sheriff’s deputies, Smith said, was the principal weakness in the previous ordinance.

“What this ordinance does is put a decibel level in place so we actually have a definition of what is too loud or isn’t too loud,” Smith said. “There are exceptions in here; there are also definitions in here.”

The Committee, chaired by District 6 Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley, worked closely with Sheriff Will Montgomery to craft the language in the new ordinance to make noise levels enforceable.

“The Sheriff said he had to have something that the magistrates could charge,” Kinley said. “Before now, they had nothing really concrete they could charge a fine for.”

“This is a balanced approach,” Smith added, “that protects the person in their home who’s trying to sleep as well as the person outside shooting their gun in a sensible manner. With this ordinance, I believe you have a less chance for getting cited for something; however, when you get cited for something, it will be something the court will be able to rule on and uphold, which was not the case with our prior ordinance.”

The Committee last April tacked on measurable decibel (dBA) levels to the previous ordinance, and extended the period of time covered under the ordinance to include 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The previous ordinance covered the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. time period, but with no dBA levels, Montgomery said the law was difficult to enforce and convictions were all but impossible.

“The reason for the decibels is for mainly court purposes,” Montgomery told the Committee. “If we don’t have that, we don’t have anything to show the judge that the noise reached this level.”

The impetus to strengthen the ordinance came, Kinley said during the April 6 Committee meeting, after an incident in the Lake Wateree area involving an individual racing a loud ATV and firing a high-powered rifle near a residence.

“We’ve talked about this before and I didn’t hear any of these concerns,” Kinley told Council Monday night. “I want you to think about the reasons we are doing this. It was not just to change the noise ordinance. It wasn’t to prevent folks from having events. It was not to keep folks from doing what they do on their property. The reason we were going to change this was to protect citizens, some of whom couldn’t even stay in their homes.

“You have to have a complaint to pursue a noise ordinance,” Kinley added. “You’re not going to have people out there running around listening to people skeet shoot.”

Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) asked Council to send the ordinance back to committee for yet another look, but Kinley said a work session with the full Council was necessary.

“We met, I think, four times,” Smith agreed. “We let citizens come in and speak three times. This thing has been worked beyond exhaustion.”

A date had not been set at press time for the work session.