Noise ordinance could get tweaked

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A proposed county noise ordinance could still require residents to file affidavits against noisemakers if Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson gets his way.
Johnson said the ordinance, if allowed to pass under its current form, could create a flurry of anonymous calls about everything from lawn mowers to loud vehicles, whose operators would face stiff fines for exceeding the set decibel limit.
It also would require deputies to ticket anyone breaking the noise law whether their activity bothered another resident or not.
Instead, Johnson said, the ordinance should be enforced based upon only valid complaints by people willing to file an affidavit. And he already has asked for an amendment to be added.
Supervisors can’t add the amendment until after the Feb. 21 public hearing on the ordinance, said county attorney Gary Carnathan. But it’s unclear they will do so since its addition would render the effort somewhat moot: Among the main reasons for the proposed ordinance is abolishing the affidavit procedure, which many residents fear because it usually pits them against a neighbor.
That procedure is part of a state law prohibiting disturbance of the peace, the public or a family. Absent a county ordinance, it’s the only rule on the books the Sheriff’s Department can enforce.
Johnson said it’s sufficient.
The law “is already there, and that’s been the argument from day one,” he said. “But these people don’t want to sign an affidavit and just want the Sheriff’s Department to lock up people bothering them. And we could be locking up people all day long.”
The proposed county ordinance also sets decibel limits for private and public properties depending on the time of day. Deputies can find anyone in violation if noise emanating from a property exceeds 65 decibels during the day and 58 at night.
For comparison, a vacuum cleaner hits about 70 decibels and a normal conversation reaches 60, according to the American Speak-Language Hearing Association.
The state law sets no such limits and leaves the burden of proof for such a disturbance to the complainant.
Supervisors had mixed reactions to Johnson’s amendment suggestion. District 2 Supervisor Bobby Smith said people shouldn’t be required to file an affidavit against noisemakers. He referred to the case of his constituent, Jacky Blackburn, who has battled a loud neighbor, Phil Raven, since at least 2008.
Because the county lacks a noise ordinance, Blackburn had to personally file an affidavit in Justice Court each time Raven’s music or loud noises disturbed his peace. Then he had to go to court.
Smith said Blackburn should be able to call deputies and report the noise without having to go before a judge and make a sworn statement.
“There ain’t a person in Lee County who would put up with that,” Smith said about Raven’s noise. “All my calls have been positive about the noise ordinance.”
District 3 Supervisor Darrell Rankin said the issue deserves more discussion before the ordinance is passed in any form.
“Whether you live in the county or the city, people ought to have freedom to enjoy peace and quiet of their home without excessive noise,” Rankin said. “The real trick is to define what is excessive.”
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com