The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 11, 2013

White Sulphur Council puts a leash on barking dog ordinance

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Spa City residents will have to wait a little longer for statutory relief from yapping dogs in their neighborhoods.

With the first reading of a barking dog ordinance scheduled for Monday, several City Council members voiced qualms about the measure’s wording, particularly as it concerns possible penalties for offenders.

Council member Bruce Bowling, who read the proposed ordinance aloud at the request of city residents in the audience for Monday’s meeting, said he finds the penalties “excessive.”

Under the terms of the revised ordinance, conviction of a person who harbors a “frequent and habitual” barking, howling or yelping dog is punishable by a fine of $250 to $500 and/or a jail sentence of up to 48 hours for a first offense. A second conviction within the prescribed time period would net the offender a fine of between $500 and $1,000 and/or up to 10 days behind bars, and a third offense in a 120-day period would cost the offender $1,000 to $1,500 and/or as much as 30 days in jail.

That third offense could also cost the noisy dog its home. If a judge were to find the dog to be a “nuisance,” the canine would be “removed from the city” under the terms of the proposed ordinance.

In addition to upping the ante on punishment, the ordinance applies equally to landlords and their tenants who harbor noisy dogs. The city’s existing noise ordinance does not hold landlords responsible for noise pollution caused by tenants.

Council member Lynn Swann said she has concerns about the clarity of the new ordinance’s wording, citing its failure to define what constitutes an acceptable level of noise or to place a time limit on dogs’ vocalizations.

Swann also noted that in looking at similar ordinances from other municipalities, she had discovered that some require written complaints from multiple sources to avoid the possibility of a person with a grudge using the law to harass a neighbor.

Council agreed to table the new ordinance to allow time to discuss concerns with City Attorney Steve Hunter and to fine-tune the proposed law.

In other business:

— Swann announced that Main Street White Sulphur Springs is sponsoring a city-wide clean-up on April 20 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteers are encouraged to participate.

— Bob Neff appealed to Council to pay for repairs to his personal vehicle, which was damaged when it struck a 2-foot tall pile of frozen snow along a city street. Neff said he believes it is the city’s responsibility to clear the streets of snow following a storm, noting that when he hit the obstruction, it was the only snow remaining on the street. He estimated the damage to his car at $1,500.

Council took the request under advisement, pending receipt of a written damage estimate and consultation with the city’s insurance carrier, which earlier had denied Neff’s claim.

— Maintenance Supervisor Matthew Hanna advised Council that he wants to convert Barton Road to a one-way street in order to address drainage problems in the vicinity. Police Chief William Wallcoen objected, saying if Barton becomes one-way, Church Street will have to follow suit.

Council agreed to investigate the situation and consult with the city attorney on the process that needs to be followed if a change is needed.

— Wallcoen reported that the city’s Police Department, operating with four officers, investigated 58 complaints, issued 41 traffic tickets and made 12 arrests during March. He added that three drug trafficking investigations are continuing.

— Fire Chief Chad Williams reported that the volunteer fire department responded to four calls in March. The VFD also took delivery of a new fire truck, which cost the department and the city $266,000.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com