Work Session Feedback Critical of Ordinances

WINNSBORO (Jan. 29, 2016) – Interim County Administrator Milton Pope reviewed for Council Monday night the results of Council’s Jan. 20 work session, during which Council hashed out an animal control and a noise ordinance, while also agreeing to restructure their community enhancement grants process. Following Pope’s review, Council received some less than positive feedback on how they had handled all three.

Animal Control Ordinance

Pope said Council had agreed to “restructure language” in the animal control ordinance “regarding (the) restraint of animals.” Using York County’s ordinance as a guideline, Pope said Council would also be “redefining the shelter of animals; adding an appropriate definition for that.”

But District 3 resident Kerry Matthews, who attended the Jan. 20 work session, said Council may be overreaching.

“It just seemed to me, particularly with the depth and the length of discussions going on that evening, you so easily get bogged down in the minutiae about what kind of shelter is OK for a dog to live in,” Matthews, speaking during Monday’s second public comment segment. “I’m sorry but that was a little bit outrageous.”

Matthews urged Council to make the ordinance as simple as possible.

“Be considering the fact that the more detail you try to get into something, the harder it’s going to be to make it reasonable and sensible,” she said.

Noise Ordinance

The County’s revised noise ordinance, in the works since last April, was sidelined before its second reading on Oct. 26. Council’s Public Affairs and Policies Committee held no fewer than four meetings last year, during which they received input from the public as they worked over the details of the law.

Nevertheless, following protests from Council members Marion Robinson (District 5) and Dan Ruff (District 1), Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) moved the ordinance out of committee and into the Jan. 20 work session.

The primary sticking point on Oct. 26 was, for Marion Robinson, the operation of firearms. Robinson said he was concerned that the revised ordinance would hinder private skeet shooting and other sport shooting on private property. District 7 Councilman Billy Smith said during the Oct. 26 discussion that the revised law contained numerous exemptions for sport shooting, but Marion Robinson said the exemptions were not clear enough.

Monday night, Pope reported that, during the Jan. 20 work session, Council had agreed to loosen the firearm restrictions.

“In the exemption section, number 10, which used to read ‘Noise associated with the legal operation of any firearm while hunting,’ we ended that sentence with ‘firearm’ and deleted the ‘while hunting’,” Pope said.

Pope said Council also agreed to remove restrictions on noise from “the normal operations of any animal shelter, animal adoption center, boarding facility, professional kennel (or) pet shop.”

Lake Wateree resident Jeff Morris, who has been involved with the revision process from the public standpoint since the beginning and who also attended the Jan. 20 work session, said during the second public comment session that it was clear to him that some Council members were not familiar with the existing ordinance, nor did they understand how noise ordinances operate.

“For example, there were a couple of issues raised that if you have a bunch of hunting dogs, that under this new ordinance, you could be cited by the Sheriff for excessive noise,” Morris said. “And in fact that’s true. Of course that’s true in the existing ordinance. The existing ordinance doesn’t have any exceptions for hunting dogs and I don’t think you should. I’m not a fan of changing our ordinance.”

The reason the noise ordinance was brought up for revision, Morris said, was at the suggestion of Sheriff Will Montgomery. District 6 Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley, who chairs the Public Affairs and Policies Committee, told Council the same thing back on Oct. 26.

“The Sheriff said he had to have something that the magistrates could charge,” Kinley said on Oct. 26. “Before now, they had nothing really concrete they could charge a fine for.”

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.

Monday night, Morris told Council that most noise conflicts can be worked out between parties without the need of a deputy to mediate or issue citations. But in cases where those disputes cannot be peacefully resolved, a noise ordinance with teeth becomes necessary.

“I think the worse thing to do is have those two neighbors escalate that dispute,” Morris said. “That’s why you have a noise ordinance. If the person creating the noise refuses to change their way and they’re not acting reasonably, then the Sheriff can take the action of actually issuing a citation. I think you need to keep those things in mind and think carefully about how this ought to be amended.”

Community Enhancement Grants

Council followed their Dec. 15 approval of community enhancement grants with a vote to terminate those grants, as awarded in their present form. Kinley, who moved to end the grants, suggested replacing them in the 2016-2017 budget with “specific funding that goes toward the support of community based programs or agencies that either develop or promote the improvement of quality of life activities for youth, adults and seniors.”

Monday night, Pope reported that Council will continue to earmark $2,500 per district ($17,500 total) for similar purposes. Council will still require an application process, he said; however, during the work session Council agreed to review those applications themselves, instead of having them reviewed by staff, as had been the process for the last two cycles. Council members will recommend funding for applicants in their specific districts, but the funding would have to be approved by a majority vote of the full Council.

The grants would be in the form of reimbursements, Pope said, with the recipient required to provide documentation of the expenditure to the County before receiving the funds. A hardship waiver would be required for applicants who cannot spend the money up front. The grants will be awarded in $500 increments and would be part of the 2016-2017 budget.

“It seems like to me that this is just calling it something different or working it a little bit differently, but still basically the same thing,” Matthews said during her public comment, “and I’m bothered by people getting to petition for money from the County Council like this.”

Matthews said numerous entities dedicated to many of the same things for which the grants are intended already exist in Fairfield County.

“As far as I know, our schools feed probably free meals to a lot of our students,” Matthews said. “I know the Council on Aging does Meals on Wheels. There’s a food bank. My church is a regular donor to the food bank. There’s a local Red Cross. There (are) a lot of groups out there that are already designed to do these things and that ya’ll are talking about doing in little drips and drabs here and there and it just doesn’t seem logical to me to do it that way.”

Changes to the ordinances, Pope said, will be brought back to Council for a vote at a future meeting. The enhancement grants, he said, would be placed on a parallel track with the budgeting process. Information on how to apply would be ready by the next meeting, and on July 1 the grants would be awarded when the next fiscal year begins.

Council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Feb. 15. It will be the only meeting scheduled for the month.