Commission meeting 6-25
In this meeting, we had a presentation from Sadie Darnell, our Alachua County Sheriff, about our police protection services in the last year. It was a lengthy presentation, but she did give us a lot of good information. For instance, seat belt infractions are a major problem in Newberry and a prime focus for ASO. So, buckle up Newberry! She also reminded us of a teen driving course that is free and offered twice a month. So far, we have had seven NHS students take advantage of that class, and I’ve heard good reports from them about the experience. If you want your teenager to take the class, you can find out more information at www.alachuasheriff.org. Of course, the bulk of her presentation was reviewing the various services the Sheriff’s office provides for us, which is everything from patrol cars to undercover agents. We spend about $480,000 a year for our police service, and that is a truly incredible deal for all the services we get! I think we have a wonderful relationship with ASO, and I look forward to working them in the years to come.
The next big item on the agenda was our progress on the expansion of our Water Reclamation Plant Facility. We awarded the construction bid to a company called Brandes Design Build, Inc. The cost of the construction of the expansion is going to be $2.4 million, and the total cost of the project will be $2.8 million. The decision the Commission has to make now is how much of our own reserved money should we use for the expansion, if any, and how much we should borrow. We can get a loan for the total amount at only 2% interest, so it begs the question of whether we should use any of our reserved money or not. We do have two other big capital outlay projects in our near future that will cost the City just under $5 million. It seems reasonable to assume that interest rates will rise in the future, so a good strategy may be to keep our money for those projects and borrow the money for this one. Right now, the City has just under $3 million in utility funds that we could bring to bear on this project or future projects. Any comments on this item would be greatly appreciated. Obviously, some of our surrounding cities have not made the best of choices when it comes to projects like this, and we certainly don’t want to make any of the same mistakes!
The noise ordinance was back on this agenda, and we finally have a workable first draft to discuss. I’m going to try to summarize the ordinance and the major talking points. It was a lengthy discussion, though, so forgive me if I miss a point or two. Basically, with the new ordinance, we are still keeping the “plainly audible” phrase in at this point. The way it is written now, an Enforcement Agent (ASO, Code Enforcement, etc…) does have the power to issue a “cease and desist” order upon a plainly audible basis. We wouldn’t prosecute someone based on a plainly audible. In order to prosecute someone for breaking this ordinance, we need a noise measurement. So, the primary way I see this part of the ordinance playing out is in a scenario like this: Say, you have a neighbor throwing a party, and it’s gone on a little too long. You could call the police, and when the officer shows up, he would have the power to shut the party down instantly. The neighbor wouldn’t face any other consequences, but the disturbance would stop immediately. The other piece to this puzzle is long term noise disturbances, like those coming from businesses. In that case, upon a complaint, an Enforcement Agent would come out and take a measurement from the site of the complaint. Now, this point, about where the measurement is taken, caused a lot of discussion. So, I’ll come back to it in a moment. The next step, if the business is out of ordinance, would be a citation issued by the Enforcement Agent. The offending business would then have to come before the Code Enforcement Board for the case to be heard. If the business, or person, comes before the board three times, the City would send the case to the State Prosecutors Office. That’s the basic outline of the ordinance.
Some of the concerns about the ordinance were where the measurement of the sound was going to be taken, allowable decibel levels, and the plainly audible phrase. As far as where the sound measurement is taken, it certainly seems counterintuitive to take it from where the compliant it made. It seems as if it should be taken from the source of the sound. However, besides the fact that our expert recommended this, there are some really good reasons for measuring it the complainant’s location. The primary reason this is a better way to do this is, if the complainant is next to a commercial zone, and the measurement is taken at the source, then, the allowable decibel level would be the commercial level. Taking the measurement at the complainant’s location means the level would be the residential level, which is significantly lower. We also talked about lowering our decibel levels. The issue with that is that we selected those levels to be in conjunction with the County levels. Remember, Newberry is a Swiss cheese city. We have lots of enclaves that aren’t part of the City. If we change our decibel levels, we could be creating a good deal of confusion. What if someone who isn’t in the City complains about someone who is? Which levels would come into play? How are the police supposed to keep track of whether someone is actually in the City or in the County? The plainly audible phrase caused me the most concern. We started this process because our old ordinance relied heavily on that phrase, and our legal department told us that we couldn’t prosecute based on that type of measurement. In this new ordinance, we are prosecuting anyone based on the plainly audible criteria, but we could potentially shut a business down based on the plainly audible phrase. My concern is whether or not that would open the City up to a law suit. If a business expends monies to put on a show, and we shut that down based on an unenforceable criteria, I think we could be held liable. So, I think we need to think about this more. Commissioner Fillyaw had one idea, and I think it might hold merit. The plainly audible phrase was really conceived of as a way to give residents immediate relief from events that don’t take place on a regular basis. Businesses wouldn’t really fall into that category since, if they are breaking the ordinance, they are usually doing it on a regular basis. Commissioner Fillyaw’s idea was to not use the plainly audible criteria in relation to businesses. For businesses, we would only rely on measurements. It is certainly an idea worth considering. We’ll have to see if it is actually workable. As always, comments about this are welcome!
The urban agriculture ordinance also was presented to us. We didn’t have the first reading of the ordinance. We were simply looking at a possible way that we could allow residents to keep small numbers of chickens. The ordinance we look at allowed for four. We approved of the idea in concept, but we sent the ordinance back to Planning and Zoning for review before it comes to us. This is an issue that many residents have asked to come before us, and I have heard from multiple people. The majority are in favor of allowing this, so if you have a different opinion, now is the time to speak up.
As always leave me your comments, questions, and suggestions!