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County may cut raucous noise

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

Shhhhhh. Keep it down.

If you don't, Pinellas County officials could bust you _ and they'll be able to do it more easily under a beefed-up noise ordinance county commissioners are scheduled to vote on tonight.

Complaints about noisy car stereos, loud teenagers and a booming cannon prompted Commissioners Karen Seel and John Morroni to ask about the county's noise rules.

"What we're really intending to do is make our roads safer, and make it easier for our citizens to gain relief," Seel said.

The result: a proposed new ordinance. The county's current rules are hard to enforce because they're based on decibel limits. County employees must be there to hear and measure the noise.

Sheriff's deputies are usually called out to quiet the loud parties, bar bands and raucous neighbors in unincorporated Pinellas. But they don't have decibel meters.

In practice, that means deputies generally ask people to keep it down. For repeat sound offenders, the county has to schedule a code enforcement staffer with a decibel meter to measure the noise _ and risk that noisemakers will stay quiet when the staffer is present.

"It's hard to catch somebody in the act with a decibel meter," said Jewel White Cole, senior assistant county attorney.

Last year in Largo, neighbors became embroiled in a noise feud about cannons that one couple set up to fire shotgun blanks during Tampa Bay Buccaneers games. Soon after the cannon debate, Morroni said, he heard from residents about noisy teenagers near Pinellas Park and loud boats in Tierra Verde.

"It just seems like all of a sudden it got really noisy around here," he said. "The complaints were just coming at us like crazy."

The proposed rules are broader. They ban "any unreasonably loud and raucous noise" and say that deputies may consider citing offenders based on time of day, how long the noise continues and how the area is zoned.

Those cited for violating the rules face a $156 fine. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $500.

Deputies should have no trouble interpreting the proposed rules, sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said.

"I think there's a level of common sense," she said. "If they're driving up on it and they can hear it three blocks away, it's probably too loud."

Pasha also said deputies won't become "noise police," citing every driver with a radio blaring.

"I think there's some reasonableness here," she said.

The proposal also has a process for citizens to file written affidavits complaining of noise. In those cases, the county would notify noisemakers that they had a week to stop the noise or face a fine.

Commissioners will vote after holding a public hearing on the proposal at 6:30 p.m. at the County Courthouse in Clearwater.