Higher fines set for overly loud activities
It’ll cost you a lot more to be overly noisy in Winthrop from now on.
At its meeting last week, the Town Council adopted new fines for violations of the town’s noise ordinance, following earlier discussions about live music noise complaints.
The new fine for a first offense (a “civil infraction” in ordinance language) will be $250. Repeated infractions bring higher fines: $500 for each individual, subsequent violation.
The previous language called for a first-infraction fine of not less than $25 and not more than $50. Subsequent violations were assessed at twice the original fine, not to exceed a total of $500.
The new penalty structure, which is effective immediately, was just the first action the council is expected to take related to enforcement of the noise ordinance. Mayor Sally Ranzau reiterated at last week’s meeting that the council will review the entire ordinance for possible revisions.
“We want people to take notice and abide by the ordinance in the books,” Ranzau said of the new fine structure.
Further refinements of the ordinance are “a work in progress,” Ranzau said. She invited ideas about “how we can control things in town.”
Town Marshal Doug Johnson presented a report on his review of noise ordinances in other communities around the state. Johnson noted that ordinances range from “complex to straightforward.”
“I have also come across a number of news articles where cities and towns have dealt with this very issue,” Johnson wrote in his memo to the council. “The constant theme in all of these articles is that this tends to be a complex issue, with strong political overtones, and with many stakeholders.”
Among considerations to be taken up by the council, Ranzau said, are provisions for special events and time limits for certain kinds of noise. For instance, the city of Leavenworth’s ordinance specifies when loud yard maintenance equipment can and cannot be used.
The noise discussion originated several weeks ago after complaints about live music at downtown venues after 10 p.m.
Winthrop’s municipal code describes a “public disturbance noise” as “Loud and raucous, or frequent, repetitive, or continuous sounds created by musical instruments, audio sound systems, band sessions, or other devices capable of producing, amplifying, or reproducing sounds which unreasonably disturb or interfere with the peace, comfort, and repose of another and can be clearly heard by a person of normal hearing at a distance of one hundred (100) feet or more from the property from which the sound originates.” The provision doesn’t apply to regularly scheduled outdoor events at parks.
In other business at last week’s meeting, the council heard an informal report from Johnson and Town Clerk Michelle Gaines about the continued search for a second deputy marshal (the town’s force now includes Johnson and Deputy Ken Bajema, but is budgeted for a third full-time officer).
Gaines noted that the town has sought applicants with two rounds of civil service ads, but have had few applications and no interviews have been scheduled. Currently, the town is hoping for a “lateral transfer” — that is, hiring a police officer who already has experience elsewhere.
Gaines said the town may need to also seek entry-level applicants who would need to be trained before they would be fully qualified law enforcement officers.
Johnson said that a consistent pattern for small towns is that their entry-level hires are, after a short time, typically picked off by larger agencies that can pay more or offer better benefits. Several other towns in Okanogan County have lost officers to the County Sheriff’s Office or other agencies, he said.
Hiring an entry-level officer, Johnson said, is akin to “paying for a county deputy.”
Winthrop and Twisp have had problems in the past attracting qualified candidates, because they are small towns in a rural area. But the problem is widespread, the marshal said.
“We are in a candidate drought around the country” for law enforcement officers, Johnson said.