FOLEY — Baldwin County voters could be asked to decide if noise restrictions should be enforced in areas outside cities and towns under a proposal being considered by the county …
FOLEY — Baldwin County voters could be asked to decide if noise restrictions should be enforced in areas outside cities and towns under a proposal being considered by the county commission.
Sheriff Hoss Mack said that while most municipalities have noise ordinances restricting sound levels coming from homes or businesses, his deputies do not have any county regulations that allow them to restrict the same activities outside city or town limits.
"As you know, there is no noise ordinance. There is no ordinance as it applies to the unincorporated areas of Baldwin County," Mack told county commissioners at their last work session. "In the unincorporated areas of Baldwin County, what they have is what is applicable under state law. So, there is no local ordinance."
Mack said state law allows municipalities to pass noise ordinances. A county does not have the authority to do so.
State law does allow the commission to approve a referendum to be placed on the ballot and have county voters decide whether a noise ordinance should be implemented in unincorporated areas, said Brad Hicks, county attorney. Hicks said the only other way to enact a noise ordinance for the county would be through a local act in the Alabama Legislature.
Commission Chairman Jeb Ball said he could support a referendum but opposes a legislative act.
"If the people want to vote in a noise ordinance, then they'll do it. I don't want to force it down their throats," Ball said.
Ball asked Hicks to determine if the county has enough time to prepare a referendum and place the issue on the ballot for the Nov. 8 general election.
Mack said complaints about noise in unincorporated areas have increased in recent weeks.
"In the unincorporated areas, people are living closer to each other," Mack said. "It's development, and it's things of that nature. It's another one of our challenges that we have in this growing county. We have people who are now closer to each other than what they were before."
Commissioner Charles "Skip" Gruber said he often hears complaints from residents of his district in south Baldwin County.
"I get overloaded with phone calls," Gruber said. "I've got the population where it's pretty tight and people raising heck and they call the sheriff, and I know you get quite a few calls from this area about it. Am I supposed to tell them, 'Forget it, I'll see you sometime later?' They don't want to hear that. They want to hear us say what we're going to try to do."
Commissioner Billie Jo Underwood said she has also heard complaints in her central Baldwin district. She said some businesses, such as dog breeding sites, are a particular problem.
"I don't know how you tell a dog to stop barking at a puppy mill," Underwood said.
She said the issue is not only a nuisance but a problem that pits neighbors against each other.
"It's complicated to have to have a law to take care of it when you've just got, potentially — I don't want to use the term bad neighbor — but maybe one that's not concerned about your sleep," Underwood said.
Mack said most complaints fall into several common categories such as gunfire, dogs and parties. Deputies can often convince a person to reduce the noise being produced or use options available under state law to resolve the problem, such as safety regulations concerning how close to a road someone can be while shooting at targets or animal welfare rules for barking dogs.
The sheriff said one of the few other options for residents in unincorporated areas is to sue their neighbors if the problem continues.