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Council entertains controversial ordinances

By Staff | Jul 13, 2011

Two controversial ordinances were discussed by the Paden City Council at the most recent meeting held July 5. Both were sent back to committees for further revisions.

The first proposition presented to the council at-large was an ordinance establishing guidelines and penalties for noise violations within the city limits. The draft of this ordinance, penned by Mayor Bill Fox, stemmed from an incident last fall after an outdoor event.

“We have worked on this for some time,” Mayor Fox explained. “It was sent to our attorney, Carolyn (Flannery), for her recommendation. She has made some changes. It has been sent back to council for review. So, it’s up to the wishes of the council to approve it. What are your wishes?”

“I’m not in favor of it,” remarked Councilman Richard Wright. “There are too many changes I’d like to see made. I know we talked about this.”

Wright went on to explain his theories, calling the proposed ordinance “too broad.” He added, “I feel we are discriminating against certain people.”

“How do you feel we are discriminating against people?” Mayor Fox inquired.

“I think the ABC Commission controls what goes on up the street. If it’s against the law for them to be outside playing music then they (ABC Commission) should be the ones taking care of that problem,” Wright stated.

Fox said, “And they will. But also, the city has a responsibility. I’m a little confused, because here shortly we are going to discuss the dog ordinance. Can we say the same thing? Are we discriminating against some people there?”

“No. We were very careful not to discriminate against anyone,” Wright replied, defending his stance on the noise ordinance.

“Well, we were careful in the noise ordinance not to discriminate against people,” Fox retaliated.

“Let me point out some of the issues,” Wright said. “Kids screaming in the City Park over 65 decibels is unreasonable. I can’t help it that there are kids down at the pool, running around screaming and having a good time.”

“Have you ever gone with a decibel reader to see what 65 decibels is?” Fox asked Wright.

“Have you?” Wright asked.

“Yes I have,” Fox said. “A tractor trailer running up and down the highway makes a lot more noise.”

“This 100 feet,” Wright attempted before being interrupted by Mayor Fox, who said, “That’s been changed!”

Flannery intervened to add, “There are all kinds of ways to do a noise ordinance. I thought a committee was going to meet to discuss what changes needed to be made.”

“We did,” Wright commented. “And what I got from that meeting was that this thing could be done simply. No noise above a certain decibel between certain hours. That’s pretty much it.”

Fox said, “You’re going to have to have more than that. I wish you had brought this to me before we came in here tonight.”

“We had a meeting,” Wright said.

“Well, I never heard too much about it,” Fox said. “You’re saying you had a meeting amongst yourselves.”

Wright said, “I talked to the police and Ptlm. Owens told me that the decibel meter had to be calibrated by professionals and they have to be trained to use them.”

“Which is very simple,” Fox remarked. “But what you’re saying is noise may not be noise to someone else. We’ve got to have something spelled out in black and white that we can enforce.”

“The way I read and understand this is, if I have a picnic with 20 or 30 people in my yard and I go over 60 decibels, my neighbor within 100 feet can have me turned in,” Wright said, citing a section of the proposed ordinance. “Now 60 decibels is normal conversation.”

Flannery commented, “I just did what council said they wanted. Like I said, there are many ways to do a noise ordinance. I thought the committee was going to meet and decide.”

“Well, I thought we did,” Wright said.

“The purpose of doing waivers was for picnics and reunions and things like that,” Flannery said. It was suggested that residents planning for special events submit an application to receive a waiver excluding them from prosecution in the event that noise reaches a level above the maximum spelled out in the proposed ordinance.

“We need to understand that if we have a sound meter, Richard is right, it has to be calibrated and you have to learn how to use it. The issue with 100 feet is that you can take a reading in one place and go to the property line and get something completely different. You can make this complex or more general and simple, but council has to decide what they want to do,” Flannery said.

“I think people need to get their heads together. We need an ordinance. I won’t sit here in this chair and go through what we went through the last few months with the noise problems. I don’t want to do that,” Fox said.

“I don’t disagree. I’m not saying we don’t need a noise ordinance,” Wright said. “But if my air compressor kicks on at 8 p.m., that is a violation of the noise ordinance.”

“I don’t know how much noise your air compressor makes. We have a code that tells us how much noise everything makes,” Fox said.

“If someone like me wants to do work on their house, under this ordinance they can’t do that,” Wright said.

“I don’t know Richard, if you’re going over 70 decibels you may be right,” Mayor Fox said.

“Seventy decibels is a good hammer crack,” Wright commented. “I’m not saying we don’t need something. I don’t have a problem saying people can’t make noise after 11 p.m., but if a child screams in the middle of the day – that’s unreasonable.”

Mayor Fox said he was planning to take the decibel meter to the city park to measure the sound during the busiest time of day. However, Flannery disputed the accuracy of a reading taken from the boundaries of the public park. Wright pointed out that the ordinance specified public or private property.

“The way I read this – you may read this entirely different – is unamplified sound while on public property or residential areas: shout, cheer, or sing, must be below 60 decibels. Now, if my neighbor across the streets has it in for me, the law is going to be down there everyday.”

“If that’s what the decibel reader says then you may have some problems. We have to have something to control the noise for everyone in Paden City,” Fox said. “If you don’t like what’s there, let’s put out heads together and make some changes.”

“We talked about this,” Wright said. “And we all came up with the same thing.”

Councilman Bob Casteel said, “What we don’t know is, how loud is 70 decibels? To me, 70 decibels might be like someone whispering because I’m hard of hearing.”

Fox said, “I’ve got a chart upstairs that will show you what 70 decibels is.”

“I want to hear 70 decibels,” Casteel said.

The ordinance was sent back to the committee for additional revisions. No action was taken.

Next on the agenda was a proposed ordinance regarding dangerous dogs in the city limits. Wright prefaced the discussion by clarifying that the proposal was for dangerous dogs only. “I don’t care what breed of dog you have. If your dog does not show signs of being a vicious dog,” he said. “This does not pertain to you.

The ordinance is general and does not define specific breeds as dangerous. “I don’t care what breed of dog you have – pit bull, black lab, or beagle – if your dog bites, it has no place in society.”

According to council, four dog bites have been reported in the last month in various locations in Paden City.

Casteel and Wright both agreed the ordinance was needed and wanted to proceed with the first reading. Flannery, however, had a few questions. “How do you determine what is a vicious dog?”

Wright read from his copy of the proposed ordinance: “A vicious dog as, when unprovoked, has inflicted injury on a human being on public or private property.”

“So who makes that determination?” Flannery asked.

“It’s up to the police officer or the Mayor of Paden City,” Wright replied.

Flannery said, “Let me make a suggestion. You’re going to have problems as to what constitutes a dangerous dog and what is considered provoked and unprovoked. You might want to consider some type of procedural process where, if there is a dog considered dangerous or potentially dangerous, there is a hearing. What a police officer thinks is a dangerous dog may be different to someone else.”

Casteel remarked, “If it bites you, it’s a dangerous dog.”

“That’s true,” Flannery said. “But sometimes dogs don’t bite but they still have that propensity.”

Flannery suggested adding a process into the ordinance requiring a complainant to file papers. The city court judge would then review the papers and make a determination on the animal. “Keep in mind, in West Virginia, dogs are considered personal property. What right do you have to take someone’s property without due process?” she explained.

Council agreed with their legal counsel and approved the revision of the ordinance. The matter was tabled, pending revisions and further discussion.

In business matters, Fox reported the proposed truck route was now a dead issue. Last month, the mayor informed council of a potential business venture involving the purchase of an empty building in Paden City by Monroe Trucking. The purchase, however, would mean heavy equipment would be moved over the city streets.

After hearing about the possibility of truck traffic, a group of citizens banded together and took it upon themselves to discuss the matter with the owner of the business. “This was not the decision of the council,” Mayor Fox pointed out. “The citizens did not want the business. It’s now a dead issue.”

In public forum, several residents voiced concerns with things going on in Paden City. The topic of their grievance ranged from driving golf carts on the street, setting off fireworks late at night, and the ongoing battle against the stray cat population.

Fox appointed the Street Committee to discuss the golf cart issue, stressing that he was not looking to ban the vehicles. It was suggested that the council should put an ordinance in place to restrict people under the driving age from operating golf carts on the city streets.

In regard to the fireworks, Fox informed the public he would have the police department investigate the matter further. It was alleged that someone was setting off fireworks at 12:30 a.m., disturbing the peace.

“What are you planning to do with the stray cats?” a resident asked.

The issue of strays has been ongoing, even after council hired a company to trap the animals and relocate them. “Do you know of anywhere we can (legally) dispose of them,” Fox asked. “We are open to suggestions.”

Another citizen remarked, “It’s not the cat’s fault. The humans did this. They should not be euthanized.” The lady went on to say she took in five stray cats recently because the original owners were going to kill them.

Councilman Larry Potts commented, “If we don’t have anywhere to get rid of them, what are we going to do with them?”

The discussion was mute and Fox closed the public forum.

Casteel brought up a water problem on Sixth Avenue. “We have decided to assist a land owner by building a catch basin,” he explained. “We have also purchased pipe to connect the basin onto the storm drain on Sixth Avenue.”

Council approved the measure, allowing the project to proceed with a stipulation that labor and materials would not exceed $1,800.

Casteel then proposed the paving of a section of Seventh Avenue, a street which runs the full length of the city. “We should pave the area that’s the worst first. I propose that we take bids for this project-one for a section of the street and another for the entire street.”

City Crew Manager Clifford Duke interjected, “Why pave before we put in the new water lines?” Duke went on to explain a recently discovered problem with a water line in the vicinity of Seventh Avenue.

Fox suggested that the Street Committee sit down to discuss the matter with Duke.

In light of this, Casteel made a motion to table the matter until after the water problems were resolved. “We are not going to put down new black top, just to dig it back up,” he said.

Another issue within the city limits involves overflowing storm drains. Casteel informed council the issues were a result of grass clippings flowing from the street into the drain. “As a courtesy to the city, we are asking the citizens to sweep up their grass clippings or blow them back onto their property,” he said.

There is an ordinance in the draft stage which could make this action mandatory.

In other business, council appointed new members to the Paden City Development Authority to fill expired terms. Under the recommendation of Mayor Fox, council voted to reappoint Dale Henry and Richard Gallagher, and to appointment of Beri Fox and Doug Patterson.