Two issues that have sat on the back burner for much of this year were on the agenda at the Kalispell City Council work session Monday: a noise ordinance and a vicious dog ordinance. And the discussion on these topics picked up largely where it left off last year, before a newly elected city council and newly hired city manager began to tackle more pressing issues, like the budget and city airport.
The proposed noise ordinance is driven by Kalispell police, who have long warned that officers lack the appropriate citation to issue when responding to noise complaints over a loud car stereo, muffler or party.
“We go to a place and we find ourselves arguing with the people,” Police Chief Roger Nasset said. “We can’t go there and say disorderly conduct covers this, because it really doesn’t.”
But as in previous discussions, council members seemed hung up on what the details of a noise ordinance would be. As drafted by Adjutant City Attorney Rich Hickel, the noise ordinance would employ a “plainly audible” standard, where an officer could use their personal discretion to determine whether a noise is excessive. But even that standard is subject to questions the council must decide, like what distance, for example, in hundreds of feet, would a car stereo be judged too loud?
The questions of so-called “quiet hours,” where certain loud noises would be prohibited also came up, as well as possible exemptions for activities like construction, lawn mowing or snow blowing.
Mayor Tammi Fisher also questioned whether a civil citation could be issued over a first noise offense, or the ordinance should be structured such that penalties could only be issued after a second or third offense. Still other council members, like Jim Atkinson and Bob Hafferman, expressed concern that instituting a noise ordinance could reflexively prompt citizens to call the police with complaints, as opposed to working out their differences with a noisy neighbor.
No votes are taken at a work session, and the likely next step will be for Hickel to draft a possible noise ordinance for the council to amend at a future meeting. The council must also decide whether to take up a separate noise ordinance regulating the city airport, as longtime critics of the airport have called for. But should the city accept federal funds for any improvement or expansion of the airport, it may compromise its authority to enforce noise standards there.
A similarly prickly issue is the need, also pushed by the police, for Kalispell to institute a tougher ordinance allowing officers to deal with vicious dogs. The issue came to a head last summer when an officer shot a pit bull on the west side, making it the fourth dog killed by Kalispell police in a span of 13 months. At the meeting Monday, Nasset affirmed vicious dog complaints continue to increase, and many of those complaints deal with pit bulls.
Questions revolved around whether the city could improvement enforcement of its requirement that dogs are registered, and whether as part of that registration owners would have to disclose whether their dog has ever bitten anyone or been abused previously.
Councilwoman Kari Gabriel suggested making insurance a requirement for dogs that have been documented biting someone. Hafferman agreed that penalties for vicious dogs need to be tougher on pet owners.
“We’ve got to put more responsibility on owners of animals who just don’t understand you don’t have an animal as a pet and not take care of it,” Hafferman said. “We send people to DUI school; maybe we ought to have something of the same nature for training in ownership of animals.”
Fisher and Councilman Randy Kenyon disagreed over whether the formation of a citizen committee could be helpful in punishing the owners of vicious dogs, with the mayor saying it adds an unnecessary layer to sentencing. Kenyon, however, maintained “it’s better to have a committee to talk stuff out.”
City staff will draft a vicious dog ordinance based on the discussion, with the question of forming a committee as a separate amendment, for a future meeting.