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The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office now has the authority to issue citations to county residents and businesses causing noise disturbances, though it plans to take a cautious approach to defining enforcement over the first few months.

After an hour of debate over exactly what regulations to pass on Tuesday, the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the state of Maryland’s recommended noise ordinance with language changed in the enforcment section to designate the sheriff’s office as the enforcement agency, rather than the Maryland Department of the Environment, and to cater it more toward Calvert County. After the sheriff’s office researches different sound meter equipment, it will come to the board for purchasing approval, and the ordinance will be officially in effect.

Lt. Col. Thomas Hejl of the sheriff’s office said at this point the office will have to speak with the Calvert County State’s Attorney’s Office to determine how noise violations will be processed. In the approved ordinance, the Department of Planning and Zoning may have authority to issue citations in the future as well but has been ordered not to at the present time.

A fine of up to $1,000 may be issued if the deputy determines a violation has occurred, and up to $10,000 could be issued for each subsequent violation. Hejl said he likes that the commissioners left the wording as “may” rather than “shall” to give the deputies some discretion. If a noise level during the day in a residential area is 68 decibels, he said as an example, where the maximum sound level is 65 decibels, “you’ve got to have the ability to say, ‘Look, just turn it down a bit.’ ... I think you need to leave some discretion in there.”

Daytime hours are defined as 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The maximum noise level during the daytime in industrial zones is 75 decibels and 67 decibels in commercial zones. Maximum noise levels at night in industrial, commercial and residential are 75, 62 and 55, respectively. If a property is classified under more than one zone, the more restrictive sound level applies, and sound levels will be read by the meters on the property of the complaintant.

While Hejl said the sheriff’s office normally only receives a handful of noise complaints coming from the same sources, such as dirt bikes without sound muffling devices and establishments that play music like the Tiki Bar in Solomons and Stoney’s Seafood House in Broomes Island, the ordinance was needed to give deputies the authority to actually issue citations.

“Right now Calvert County and the sheriff’s office are not being successful in resolving these noise complaints,” Commissioners’ President Susan Shaw (R) said, addressing Hejl. “It’s a handful, like you said, maybe a dozen, and they go on and on and on. I think what this was, was an effort to give you the tools you need to successfully bring this to a conclusion.”

Tuesday’s debate among the commissioners began when Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) suggested scrapping the county attorney’s proposed ordinance and approving the state ordinance, with an enforcement section more tailored to Calvert.

“I feel the state ordinance is sufficient to take care of the problems we have out there right now and if they’re not, we can make a motion to change it as we go forward,” Clark said, adding that because the county’s proposed ordinance was more detailed than the state’s, it might lead to unintended consequences, as has been the case with the county’s zoning ordinances. “All this is going to do is create a tremendous amount of unintended consequences and have the sheriff deputies running around because someone’s cutting the grass at 6 o’clock in the morning.”

However, county attorney Emanuel Demedis said he modeled the state proposed ordinance almost exactly when drafting the county’s version so he did not feel that adopting the state ordinance would get rid of the problem of potentially strict regulations.

“I thought this whole thing was to take the state law and apply it to the county,” Commissioners’ Vice President Pat Nutter (R) said. Having worked for both planning and zoning and the sheriff’s office, he said he has probably answered more noise complaints than anyone else in the commissioners’ hearing room at the time. “I think this is going to be a problem that’s going to take a law enforcement study group to figure out how we’re going to enforce any of this,” he said.

While Clark’s motion passed, Nutter’s recommendation that the sheriff’s office develop a “sort of formula” for definitive enforcement before planning and zoning is brought in also passed.

Clark added that because the ordinance is so new to the county, residents should not expect it to be a solid cure for noise issues. “There’s going to be a lot of problems enforcing this to start with, no matter how we go about it,” he said.

In other business, the commissioners:

Ÿ Proclaimed June 17 Relay For Life Day in Calvert County;

Ÿ Reappointed C. Michele Rockhill to the Common Ownership Infrastructure Advisory Committee and the Rev. Donald Melvin to the Social Services Advisory Board;

Ÿ Unanimously approved an additional $170,000 in grant funding for the Bay Restoration Fund for continued installment of nitrogen-removing septic systems;

Ÿ Unanimously approved a one-time-only supplemental award of $38,322 to the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration fiscal 2011 award for the purchase of furniture and equipment for the new Substance Abuse Services building being constructed on Stafford Road;

Ÿ Unanimously awarded a contract to Chesapeake Publishing & Printing LLC of Easton for the design, layout, printing and mailing services for the parks and recreation activity guide for a one-year period, with services ranging from $20,000 to $36,000 depending on the number of pages;

Ÿ Unanimously approved the payment of $17,986.90 in back utility bills to American Tower Corporation, as a result of a misunderstanding in the Dunkirk tower site contract; also allowed the corporation to sublease space on the Dunkirk and Lusby towers for use by the FBI;

Ÿ Unanimously approved two agreements of sale for fee simple acquisition for Fairground Road improvements, for $4,450 and $2,000;

Ÿ Unanimously passed resolutions defining the county’s fund balance spending policy and re-enacting the new Stabilization Fund Agreement to comply with the Governmental Accounting Standards Board No. 54; there is no fiscal impact in the overall general fund;

Ÿ Heard a plea for help during public comment from Geoff Ricker, who cannot open his carry-out restaurant, Jerry’s Place at the Tiki, until planning and zoning and the Tiki Bar owners resolve their issues over the bar’s current zoning violations.

mrussell@somdnews.com