It could soon be easier for police to quiet loud noises in Johnson City.

City commissioners approved changes to the city’s noise ordinance on second reading at their regular meeting July 1. The amendment will require one more vote of approval before it goes into effect.

Under current rules, it can be an onerous process for officers to measure noise coming from an offending property, said City Attorney Sunny Sandos.

“It was very complicated, and it was so complicated that it had made it virtually unenforceable because our officers just were not able to complete all the steps that were necessary in measuring the noises,” Sandos said.

Sandos said the city will use the same devices, measure sounds at pretty much the same levels and will take into account any interfering noises, but the changes cut out some of the complications. According to a draft placed on the commission’s June 17 agenda, violations would continue to be an up-to $50 fine under the revised ordinance.

Maj. Matt Howell told commissioners in June that officers currently have to take a measurement of the sound with a meter and then come back the following night to take an ambient reading.

“When someone complains about the noise you’re not getting immediate remedy to that problem because of the way the ordinance was written,” Howell said. “With this officers can take immediate action based on the reading that they’re seeing.”

Sandos said the city examined its policy at the request of the police department.

“There would be calls that would come in from citizens regarding potential noise violations and the police weren’t able to effectively investigate them,” Sandos said.

Changes also allow codes enforcement staff to enforce the noise ordinance. Current rules only enable police officers to do so.

Additionally, the amendment adds a ban on sound amplification devices on public property. Sandos said the prohibition does not affect private businesses or private property.

Because there are a lot of events that use sound amplification devices on public property, Sandos added, the amended ordinance does include a series of exceptions to this rule. That includes allowing amplification during routine assemblies, special events, sporting events or activities approved by a representative of that location.

Sandos said many other cities have placed a ban on sound amplification devices on public property. City officials examined rules in Franklin, Murfreesboro and Knoxville.

“There are instances where there are offending sounds and nuisance sounds when there’s not events going on, and this allows the city the ability to address those offending noises,” she said.

Overall, Sandos noted, the current noise ordinance is very complicated, but the changes make it more practical. The ultimate goal, she said, is for the police to be able to help when they receive a call about loud noises.

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David Floyd covers Johnson City government, Johnson City schools and Ballad Health for the Johnson City Press. He grew up in East Tennessee and graduated from ETSU, where he was the executive editor of the school paper.

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