Report Suggests City Should Shift Noise Violation Work Away from Zoning Officers
The report comes after councilors asked the administration to study the Planning, Zoning and Inspection Department to find ways to streamline functions.
A report that Newport City Councilors commissioned to look for inefficiencies in the Department of Planning, Zoning Inspection and Development suggests moving the function of noise violation investigations out of the department and back into the hands of police.
City Manager Edward F. Lavallee reported Wednesday night that the analysis showed that it may be beneficial to remove the function of noise violations from the Planning Department and return it to the Police Department. It also suggested reducing deputy zoning staff by eliminating the part-time position, reassigning the full-time deputy zoning officer within the department, and empowering municipal inspections and zoning officers to issue municipal court tickets for a limited number of ordinance violations, including violations for failure to clear sidewalks after snow storms.
The report indicated that the deputy zoning officers' work appears to be less demanding in terms of the volume of recorded activity compared to other areas of the department. According to the report, the two officers, who generally work as a team, recorded 332 calls for service last year, averaging about two per day on a yearly basis.
But Mayor Stephen C. Waluk noted that the city has made progress in reducing noise violations in recent years thanks to their efforts, and that he would be “strongly opposed to eradicating those positions."
The report states that historically, the task of responding to noise complaints resided in the police department. Police officers were trained to operate the noise meters and used the meters, as the deputy zoning officers do, to determine violations. As it currently stands, the deputy zoning officers respond to noise complaints to meter the noise level, then call on police if there is a violation.
The report states that given the fact that a deputy zoning officer cannot issue a ticket, or make an arrest, when a violation is discovered, it appears to be somewhat inefficient to have the deputy zoning officers respond to these types of calls. By reassigning the noise violation responses to police, the report says, "a major function of the two DZO's will be eliminated. With the removal of that task the staff should be reduced in consideration of the reduced workload. Initially, the part-time DZO position should be eliminated. Recognizing the workload of the other inspection functions in the Department, the full-time DZO position should be reassigned in support of those other inspection tasks."
Lavallee said the report represents an initial examination of the department and that the study will continue with comparisons drawn from Planning Departments in other communities of similar complexity.
Also Wednesday, Lavallee updated the council about the city's work to encourage commercial businesses to get involved in recycling.
Beginning in July 2012, Newport needs to boost its recycling rate to 35 percent to be in compliance with state regulations, Lavallee said. Currently, the percentage of Newporters recycling is around 22 percent.
Mayor Stephen C. Waluk and Councilor Kathryn Leonard sponsored a resolution earlier this year asking city administration to report back on the status of business recycling. In a memo to the council on March 15, Lavallee reported that the city's Public Services Department has been working with the city's current trash hauler to create a voluntary commercial recycling program, as there is no current state law mandating recycling for businesses.
A memo prepared by the city's Public Services Department states that part of the reason some businesses may not recycle is because of the obstacles they currently face. The pilot commercial recycling program would make participation easier by offering curbside recycling bins to businesses, collection with two 65-gallon toters, a dumpster for cardboard, and free access to the transfer station. Waste Management has also offered to pick up recyclables from five non-profits, free of charge.
The volume of recyclables that could come from commercial recycling, Lavallee said, would help contribute toward the mandated recyclable percentage established by the state. Lavallee said staff is currently working with the waste hauler to identify tasks and responsibilities associated with the promotion and operation of the program.
If Newport does raise its recycling percentage, Lavallee noted, it would result in savings at the dump as well as tax breaks. For instance, the higher the recycling rate, the more money Newport could save on tipping fees of solid waste. The rebate is $1 per ton at 24 to 30 percent, $2 per ton at 29 to 34 percent and $3 per ton for 34 percent or more. With the current recycling rate of 22.5 percent in FY 2010, the Public Services Department noted that the city has been ineligible for these incentives.
The report notes that eight months after the Town of Warren implemented a similar commercial recycling program, it saw its recycling rate jump 10 percent.
The recommendation is for the implementation of the pilot program to start around May 1.
Other notes from Wednesday’s meeting:
- William M. Doherty and Cameron S. Doherty from the Cluny School were honored as finalists in the National Geographic Geo-Bee.
- Lauren Carson and Doug Sabetti were appointed to the Energy & Environment Commission; John Drotos was appointed to the Historic District Commission; Charles Laranjo was appointed to the Newport Housing Authority.
- The communication to implement 24-hour resident parking on Washington Street from Marsh Street to Poplar Street was unanimously withdrawn.