Shhh, Quiet, Payson Alters Noise Rules

Barking dogs, clanking garbage trucks dominate discussion in overhaul of rules to regulate neighborhood noise

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Garbage trucks — bad.

Ice cream trucks — good.

Barking dogs — very bad.

That’s a shorthand highlight of the Payson Town Council’s discussion of an overhaul of the town’s noise ordinance.

The council mostly accepted the town staff’s overhaul, which included slightly higher fines for most offenses and sharply lower fines for some others.

However, most of the discussion centered on barking dogs, melodic ice cream trucks and clanking garbage trucks.

The meeting last week gave Town Attorney Tim Wright a chance to explain the provisions of the sometimes confusing ordinance, including the shift in fines.

One section of the ordinance crossed out a maximum $1,000 fine and replaced it with a maximum $250 fine, which the Roundup incorrectly reported last week would apply to all violations. In fact, it would apply only to the maximum fine for semi-trucks using engine braking as they clanked through town.

Wright also struggled to explain the logic behind a seemingly random mix of civil and criminal penalties for excessive noise making, depending on the source of the noise.

Most of the violations will remain civil violations. That means the town must prove that the peace and making an “unreasonable” racket by a “preponderance of evidence.” A civil violation would carry a maximum penalty of $300, up from $250 in the current ordinance.

On the other hand, truckers who use “jake brakes,” people with barking dogs, and kids with loud scooters and other “play vehicles” could all face criminal prosecution. That includes a maximum fine of up to $2,500, said Wright. However, the town would have to prove a violation “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a much higher standard for a criminal conviction.

In practice, said Wright, the town tries to work out conflicts without ever actually going to court. He said he couldn’t remember the last time the town filed a criminal complaint based on the noise ordinance.

Much of the council discussion focused on the vexing issue of barking dogs.

“This is a very big problem,” said Councilor Ed Blair. “We really need to get hold if it and get our citizens’ attention.”

Payson Police Chief Don Engler said that the department ends up citing about five pet owners a month as a result of barking dog complaints. Police try to resolve most such complaints with visits to the homeowner rather than immediately imposing fines.

Engler said the department has found judges much more sympathetic if the police issue a verbal warning, then a written warning before they actually write a citation.

Nonetheless, the council stepped in to increase the fines for barking dogs.

The changes will leave in place a $50 fine for a first offense, but would increase the fine for a second offense from $100 to $150 and for a third offense from $200 to $300.

The council also took objection to a staff proposal to exempt garbage trucks from the provisions of the noise ordinance that govern construction sites. The ordinance bans any noise from a construction site that seems “unreasonable” or poses a “public nuisance” at any time of the day. It also essentially bans the operation of heavy construction equipment before 5 a.m. in the summer or 6 a.m. in the winter.

The staff version of the ordinance would have exempted garbage trucks from that restriction on when they can start their rounds, but would have still prevented garbage trucks from making a public nuisance din.

However, Councilor Rick Croy objected that the exemption would leave garbage trucks free to operate at any time. “You’d have no timetables at all,” he said, “which means they could slam a garbage truck around at 4 in the morning.”

Councilor Blair agreed, but objected to applying even the 5 a.m. summer construction standard. “I personally think 5 a.m. is awfully early for a noisy garbage truck to be running round in a residential neighborhood. I can hear that truck coming from a block away and my wife always says ‘did you put the garbage can out?’ So I would propose a 6 a.m. limit in residential areas.”

That provoked a long and surprisingly technical discussion complete with amendments to amendments to amendments about how to keep garbage trucks from rumbling down the streets and making bleary eyed homeowners run out to haul the garbage can to the curb at 5 a.m. without making truck drivers vulnerable to getting tickets on their way to work.

No one spoke up for obnoxiously loud kids’ motorized scooters, which inexplicably remained a criminal rather than a civil violation in the ordinance reorganization.

One local biker who goes by the nickname “Hollywood,” did rise from the audience to make sure no one planned to mess with motorcycle riders in the course of the rewrite. The provision requires motorcycles to have mufflers and that won’t change, but perhaps he was concerned about the whole scooter issue.

Hollywood said, “My brothers and sisters wanted me to come down here just to demonstrate the passion we have for what we do,” noting that “we like to be heard.”

No problem there.

However, as a footnote, Councilor Su Connell observed that she’d gotten a slew of complaints about the noise of motorcycles roaring through neighborhoods during the recent Thunder Mountain motorcycle rally, which drew about 5,000 bikers to town.

“We were not the owners of this project,” said Connell. Therefore, she forwarded all the complaints to the Mogollon Health Alliance, which organized the event.

Likewise, Mayor Kenny Evans said he forwarded a batch of complaints about the noise blasting out of the loudspeakers at the high school to the district. Technically, the school district operates like its own little country, which makes it exempt from many town ordinances.

So that left only the issue of the ice cream trucks.

The current ordinance would make the amplified music tinkling from an ice cream truck a violation of the noise ordinance, in the same category as a sound truck trundling through the neighborhood exhorting people to vote.

“I want to exempt ice cream trucks,” said Councilor Fred Carpenter.

So be it.

The council adopted all those changes and approved the resulting ordinance on a 7-0 vote.

And in noting the lack of public testimony, Evans added, “I just want to make a note of the absolute silence in the room.”

That got a laugh. Not a loud one, but a laugh nonetheless.

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