Proposed town muffler law cranks up debate at hearing

JOHNSTOWN- The town is eyeing a law to make sure small, off-road vehicles have effective mufflers, but some people are worried the measure would be too broad and unenforceable.

At Monday’s public hearing on the proposed local law, members of the Town Board were divided over the proposal, which supporters said is intended to limit noise created by small motorized vehicles.

The law – proposed by Town Board member Daryl Baldwin and supported by board member Walter Lane -would prohibit modifications to stock or aftermarket mufflers that would render the muffler inoperative.

However, the law would prohibit a person using a small motorized vehicle – such as ATVs, off-highway motorcycles, mini-bikes or any other vehicle meant for recreation or pleasure – from causing noise which would annoy, disturb or endangers the comfort, health peace or safety of “reasonable persons of ordinary sensibilities and tolerance for sound levels.”

If a person is found violating the law, they could face fines. First-time offenders could be fined $25 to $50, second offenders in the same year could be fined $50 to $100; repeat offenders within one year could face up to $250 in fines.

According to Baldwin, town Attorney Cathi Radner suggested the law as a way to avoid a noise ordinance or a decibel limit, which would be difficult to enforce.

Baldwin and Lane said the proposed law was created to deal with some people in the town who drive their vehicles around their properties at all hours of the night, disturbing neighbors.

Jim Westover, town board member, said he was against the law, feeling it was unnecessary legislation.

“I don’t think it is that big an issue. I have never heard a complaint,” Westover said.

Baldwin and Lane both said they have heard complaints about excessive noise from off-road vehicles. They said many people are too nervous to speak with their neighbors.

“I agree, it is not a major thing, but it has happened. And when it happens, the people who complained about it are very hesitant to go and talk to people making the noise, for a variety of reasons,” Lane said.

At the hearing, questions remained about who would enforce the proposed law. Town officials were not sure if the code enforcement officer would enforce the law, or if a town constable would have to be selected.

Caitlyn Hart, a town resident, spoke to the board during the public hearing. She is concerned the law would punish innocent people who are using off-road vehicles.

“The sound, yes, at times it can be obnoxious and quite loud, but there are people who move to the countryside specifically so they can run these vehicles and have fun,” Caitlyn Hart said.

Town Clerk Nancy Hart said this law would be like the town’s barking dog law: People will call and complain about barking dogs, but they will not go on the record with their name, which prevents proper enforcement of the law.

“You are basically writing a law that is unenforceable. It is another law on the books, for what reason? We have too many laws on the books now. We have state stuff and other laws to cover this stuff,” Nancy Hart said.

If there is a conflict between the town law and county, state or federal law occurs, the more restrictive measure would prevail, according to the proposal.

The board decided to discuss the law again during its meeting next Monday.