PORT RICHEY — Some nights, the live bands at the restaurants two blocks away sound louder in Bill Bennett's home than his television.
The city's noise ordinance says that from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., noise can't exceed 55 decibels in a residential district — about the level of a regular conversation. But the neighbors of some popular riverside restaurants say the ordinance needs to be amended, as the noise amplifies over the open water.
"Once it hits the water," former council member Bennett said, "it's all over."
The City Council discussed possible solutions at a workshop Tuesday night. The ideas included lowering the decibel level and increasing fines for violators.
Former council member Nancy Britton said she can sometimes hear music from local restaurants coming through the walls at her house.
"Residents have had to call and say there's a problem here, and nothing gets done," she said. "I'd like to see a substantial fine of $1,000."
Fines range from $55 for first-time offenders to $500 for a third offense. Ultimately, the city can shut down a problematic establishment.
Port Richey police have logged 31 noise complaints since January. In 2007, there were 64. In 2006, there were 99.
Even with a decibel level on the books, enforcement can be difficult. In St. Petersburg, for example, city officials are debating whether to switch from using decibel meters to an audible standard, leaving police officers with the authority to determine what being "too loud" means.
Port Richey police officers use sound meters to measure noise levels 50 feet from a restaurant's property line.
Michael Simpson, who owns the Fatty 'n' Mabel's waterfront restaurant, said he "takes a walk" with police officers to nearby Pier Road and Limestone Drive to measure the noise from his establishment. He said he does so as a courtesy for residents to make sure music from his bands isn't too loud.
Simpson said he fired two bands for being too loud while they performed on the restaurant's porch, an area with a ceiling and Key West shutters. He said he's never been cited for a noise violation.
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.