Officials reassess nuisance ordinance

Most at public hearing like idea, fault wording

Rejection of measure expected

Union Bridge

March 24, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Union Bridge officials said yesterday they will probably scrap a proposal to start fining property owners for repeat nuisance calls that tie up their police service, but are hoping to come up with another solution.

Mayor Bret D. Grossnickle said the council will likely start looking for other options in dealing with repeated police calls to the same addresses for loud music, drinking, arguing and fighting.

Grossnickle's comments came the day after residents overflowed Monday night's public hearing in nearly unanimous opposition to a proposed ordinance that they characterized as overly punitive, possibly illegal and a deterrent to calling police for help.

Grossnickle initially had hoped to salvage portions of the ordinance, but said yesterday, "I think if that isn't the way to go, then we should scrap this one and begin again.

"Maybe we can't do it," he said. "I'd still like to address the police calls."

Many in the standing-room-only crowd, which numbered more than 50 before the hearing began, told officials that the proposed ordinance was not the answer, but thanked the mayor and council for attempting to do something about problems they think are hurting the town.

"This is our town. ... We don't want these troublemakers in town," said George Keeney, whose message was the briefest, but drew the loudest applause when he concluded, "Throw this one in the trash can and let's start over."

After the meeting, Grossnickle and several council members said they probably will vote on the proposed ordinance next month, because it had been formally introduced and advertised, but it likely would not pass. They said they plan to take people up on offers to serve on a committee to tackle the problem of repeated police calls and to set up more meetings with landlords.

The town of about 1,000 pays for a part-time resident sheriff's deputy as its primary law-enforcement officer. Town officials introduced the ordinance after the deputy reported spending an inordinate amount of time on calls to the same few addresses about noise, fights, drunkenness, barking dogs and other complaints that did not result in arrests.

Although intended only for those nuisances, the language in the proposal refers only to "excessive" calls to the police about any address in town - whether apartment, business or private home. The property would be posted after the second such call within 12 months; then fines of $500 for a third such call, and $1,000 for any subsequent calls, could be imposed. Properties would be placed on probation for two years. Appeals would be to the mayor and council, then to the courts.

"Quite frankly, people are going to be afraid to call the police on their neighbors" and criminals could take over the town, said Elizabeth Nuckles, the first speaker. On the flip side, she said, "neighbors bearing grudges will be able to set each other up."

Dean Pennington, a local landlord and resident, said the proposal was too vague about the type of call, and wondered whether it would apply to a complaint about a vehicle blocking a parking space. He also said the proposal would do nothing to help landlords evict problem tenants.

Several speakers suggested that landlords should better screen tenants.

One of them was Jim Rowe, an owner of the Buttersburg Inn on Main Street. He said he watched tenants move from one building to another and has called police about fights across the street from his restaurant.

"I think you're on the right track, I really do," he told the council, but added that the proposal needs work.

"If you want to raise my taxes, raise 'em," said Dave Nuckles. "We've got to get this town cleaned up."

Grossnickle, who remained polite throughout the sometimes rowdy meeting, said yesterday: "It went well. What was going on is what it's all about. You can't involve everybody when you're trying to do something - that's why we have a public hearing."

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