PORT RICHEY — The City Council has again extended the life of a temporary noise ordinance, but this time only to debate possibly putting more teeth into a code some on the board say has done little to quiet bars and restaurants along the Pithlachascotee River.
On Tuesday evening, the council unanimously approved a 30-day extension for the city's temporary noise ordinance — set to expire Jan. 26 — to hold a workshop to discuss a permanent code with more teeth to it. The workshop, which has not yet been scheduled, would also allow the public to weigh in on any proposed changes.
"We're having a lot of issues now, extreme issues," council member Nancy Britton said of the continued complaints from residents.
The city's temporary ordinance came about in October 2010, after residents and business owners packed into City Hall to protest a previous ordinance that banned all amplified outdoor sound.
In response, the council crafted the current ordinance, which sets decibel levels that both businesses and residents cannot exceed. Currently, noise cannot exceed 55 decibels after 10 p.m., and must be 60 decibels or below all other times. (A normal conversation is about 60 decibels.) Noise levels are measured from the property line.
City Attorney Joseph Poblick told the council Tuesday it had a meatier noise ordinance than other cities in the area.
"Nobody's really happy with their noise ordinance and their ability to enforce it," Poblick said. "Actually Port Richey has a fairly extensive noise ordinance compared with other jurisdictions."
Still, Britton wants an ordinance that's even tougher.
"I've said it before, we need to give them a fine, we need to give them a bigger fine, then we need to shut them down, and I think our problem will be over," she said.
Britton also questioned the police department's enforcement of the current ordinance.
"I asked a long time ago that this not be put onto the public, that we should be enforcing this, and it's not happening," she said. "We shouldn't have to call constantly over and over, the residents should not have to go through that if we're doing our job."
After the meeting, Port Richey Police Chief Dave Brown said his officers regularly conduct decibel readings using the procedure outlined in the ordinance, and have found no violators warranting a citation. He said his officers have also routinely asked restaurants and bars to turn down their music when a complaint is made.
"Some of them do it, some of them don't," Brown said. "It's very difficult because what may be loud to one person may not be to another. But I have to enforce what I have been given."
Vice Mayor Bill Colombo has also been vocal in recent months that the current ordinance has done little to curb noise, bringing him to propose holding off any decisions before a workshop.
"There are certainly other things that need to be added to it," he said.
Colombo did, however, acknowledge that the council will be walking a fine line in trying to craft tougher measures.
"Anytime you find yourself coming up with a really good noise ordinance you find yourself running up against the good old First Amendment," he said.
And if past meetings at City Hall over the noise ordinance are any indication, the next workshop could draw a large audience to discuss what council member Steve O'Neill called a "very, very sensitive" issue.
"The last time we discussed this at length we had a room so full we had to bring up the fire truck and open up everything," Mayor Richard Rober noted.