Now we know the sounds of a County Commission just plain giving up:
Stereos cranked to ear-bursting levels, nonstop barking dogs, revving engines, all-night parties.
As Times staff writer Barb Behrendt reported Thursday, the Hernando commission was presented with a choice last month: pay $2,500 for a new decibel meter and the salary of somebody to operate it when it's needed most, or do nothing to enforce its noise ordinance.
"Nothing, that'll be good," said Commissioner Wayne Dukes, neatly capturing the prevailing spirit of the day. At the time, nobody came right out and said that keeping the peace isn't the government's problem. But commission Chairman Jim Adkins was happy to do so in a rambling and, I hope, not totally serious interview Thursday.
If you have a noisy neighbor, he said, you can either talk to the person yourself or "put a pillow over your head and put on some soft music."
This all came up because a recent court ruling struck down a noise ordinance that relied on the judgment of deputies or code enforcement officers. The section of the county law that sets maximum allowable volumes is still valid, a county attorney told the commission last month, but enforcing it requires a working decibel meter.
The county's meter is broken and would cost about $2,500 to replace, said public safety director Mike Nickerson. With only five code enforcement officers, none can be spared to work nights and weekends, when noise complaints peak, he said. And with a proposed budget for next year of $543,000 — down from $1.1 million in 2008 — code enforcement certainly can't afford to pay overtime.
As you might expect from those numbers, the county has let a lot of things slide in the past few years. You've no doubt noticed the creeping blight. But there's a big difference between a neighbor who won't mow the lawn and a neighbor who keeps you up all night. One can put a damper on your life; the second can just about ruin it.
Among the commission's jobs is building an attractive community. And who is this do-nothing approach likely to attract? Maybe garage bands that don't want the worry of complaints from bothersome neighbors.
Okay, I'm exaggerating. A little.
The Sheriff's Office is usually the first responder to noise complaints, and since July 1 it has dealt with 385 of them, said Sheriff Al Nienhuis. All have been resolved by talking things out with the people complaining and the ones making a racket.
Still, a couple of dozen complaints during a typical year go all the way to the citation phase. If residents know this can't happen anymore, is it possible that a deputy might find it more difficult to negotiate?
I think so. I also think the Sheriff's Office, with its $41 million proposed budget, could take on the job of enforcement — training someone to operate the decibel meter and using it when needed.
Nienhuis disagreed: "Adding that burden is not something that I'm willing to do right now."
That leaves the commission with a familiar choice: Pressure the sheriff to part with some of his funding or raise property taxes enough to pay for essential services. Or a bit of both.
Or, of course, there's that new option: Just do nothing.