If a loud stereo disturbs a neighborhood, but nobody in county government cares about the racket, did it really make a noise? Forget philosophy or physical science. The question captures the ridiculous predicament in Hernando County where enforcement of the county's noise ordinance has been silenced by broken equipment and a bare-bones code enforcement staff unavailable for after-hour calls.
More specifically, enforcement is doomed by a commission unwilling to invest in either equipment or staff.
It's not the first time the county wrestled with noise questions. The commission beefed up the county's noise ordinance more than a decade ago in response to complaints stemming from the music inside Planet Bubba, a Spring Hill night club owned by disc jockey Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. Two years later, people complained about noise from air boats along the coast. At least then, the county had the foresight to act via enforcement against the bar or considering task force recommendations on air boat controls. There is no such thoughtful inclination among commissioners in 2011.
As Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt reported, the commission picked the "do-nothing'' option at a July meeting after hearing alternatives from county staff including repairing or replacing its inoperable decibel-measuring equipment for the paltry sum of less than $3,000. Even with new gear, the county would still have to consider its code enforcement staff, already thinned by three consecutive years of countywide budget cuts, which doesn't work evenings when most noise complaints are lodged.
Instead of acquiring the equipment and asking the Hernando Sheriff's Office to be more vigilant on nighttime noise complaints, the commission simply muted its own discussion, much to the chagrin of Commission Chairman Jim Adkins. He relayed citizen complaints about noisy cars and loud stereos and had asked the county to beef up its noise ordinance after residents said the nuisance noise continued unabated.
Certainly, the county must balance its resources. Noise has been a relatively minor issue compared to code enforcement problems stemming from vacant or foreclosed homes. The county recorded a total of just 70 noise complaints over a three-year period ending Sept. 30, 2010. But that matters little if you're the one living near the barking dog, loud music, nighttime gathering, revving car engine or any other sound-wave assaults. Without saying so, commissioners effectively told residents to tolerate the insufferable or else buy ear plugs.
That is not leadership. The unwillingness to enforce its own ordinance is just one more example of an eroding quality of life in a county governed by commissioners who too often favor inertia over investment.