Late-night noisemakers would risk fines of up to $1,000 under Heselton bill Chronic offenders have incensed some HARFORD COUNTY

September 26, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Loud parties, rock bands and booming car stereos could become a lot more costly -- at least in residential areas -- if a proposal from Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton clears the County Council this fall.

The bill would provide for fines of up to $1,000 per offense on late-night noisemakers.

"I've had a number of complaints from many people in Harford County in the last several months," said Mrs. Heselton. The District A Republican said that the objects of the complaints have ranged from motorcycle gangs playing hard rock music to neighbors holding midnight lawn parties.

Her bill states that anyone making noise that can be heard from a residential property at least 50 feet away between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. would be subject to a civil fine after ignoring an initial warning. The fine would be $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second and $1,000 for the third.

The law would be enforced by county sheriff's deputies, who are frequently summoned to quell neighborhood noise but can do no more than request the offending party to quiet down.

Mrs. Heselton said that many constituents have complained of offenders who repeatedly create a racket well past midnight. "Some people are incensed that there are no regulations to prevent this."

Harford is one of few jurisdictions in the Baltimore metropolitan area without a noise ordinance, said Mary Kate Matanoski, the council legislative aide who drafted the proposal. Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City all have anti-noise ordinances, she said.

There is a state law restricting noise but that it is rarely enforced because it is based on decibel levels, which must be measured (( with a meter.

The meters can be expensive and difficult to calibrate and their evidence does not always hold up in court, said Ms. Matanoski.

Mrs. Heselton's proposal is modeled after the Anne Arundel County law, which relies on police officers responding to a complaint to judge whether or not the noise violates the law. If after an initial warning the noise continues, an officer can issue a citation, imposing a civil fine.

Some counties not only impose a civil penalty but also define the offense as a misdemeanor, said Ms. Matanoski, but Harford's proposal does not entail a criminal offense.

Lt. Col Thomas P. Broumel, chief deputy of the Harford County sheriff's office, says the laws in the majority of Maryland jurisdictions are enforced by law enforcement personnel and not by using meters.

"This is a much simpler, common-sense approach and, from that aspect, it's a good bill," he said.

He said the county has looked at ordinances in other jurisdictions, including Ocean City, where late-night noise is a chronic problem and a similar law has proved to be "very effective."

Similar ordinances also exist in the municipalities of Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, all of which have instituted or strengthened their laws within the last year.

Mrs. Heselton's bill does not specifically define offensive noises, except to exclude some sources such as fire and ambulance sirens, emergency operations of a public service company or the operation of farm equipment.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12 in County Council chambers.

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