Chickens, Noise and Taxes

During its Committee of the Whole workshop this morning, the Escambia County Commission tended to chickens, the county’s noise ordinance and allocation of the fourth-cent tourist tax.

Commissioners first plowed into the tax allocation. There was around $1.5 million to spread around to outside organizations.

More than a dozen parties, including the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, were in line for the bed-tax generated money. The revenue is meant for organizations seen as benefiting the area’s tourism effort.

Commissioner Grover Robinson wondered why funds allocated to St. Michaels Cemetery and the Historic Preservation Board had been cut to zero, and Commissioner Gene Valentino pushed to have the Frank Brown Songwriters Festival be added to the existing list.

After reshuffling the numbers, the commissioners were able to allocate the money to everyone on the board’s satisfaction. The effort required pulling $6,000 out of the Chamber’s pot; the chamber of commerce was in line to receive almost $900,000 in total.

Commissioners also addressed a local legal ruling which found the county’s noise ordinance to be unconstitutional. The ruling stemmed from a challenge by a local nightclub, which argued the ordinance—which has no specific decibel limits—was too vague.

The county board had originally decided to back an appeal to the ruling. This morning, they stepped away from that position, with Commissioner Gene Valentino apologizing to the nightclub manager, saying the county should not require him “to have to fight another round.”

Chief Larry Aiken, of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, told the commissioners that decibel meters could be used if the county signed off on a specific limit, but the devices would require some investment, as well as training. He estimated the meters cost between $1,400 and $2,100, and that “it would be nice to have one per shift, that would be 12.”

Commissioner Robinson said he thought rewriting the noise ordinance to cite a specific limit would not allow the county enough flexibility in determining what constituted an infraction. Valentino pushed for the county to model an ordinance on an existing system employed in Perdido Key. The board eventually requested that county staff bring back several options for a rewrite for them to look at.

Now that the city of Pensacola has reworked its ordinances pertaining to keeping backyard chickens to facilitate the urban farming movement, county commissioners are also looking at the issue.

“If the city can do it, surely we can find a way to work it into the county,” said Commission Chairman Wilson Robertson.

Lloyd Kerr, director of the county’s Development Services department, told commissioners that people had expressed interest in keeping chickens, but that interest had also been expressed in keeping a variety of animals including goats, sheep and miniature horses.

“We even had a woman call us and want to know if she could build an outdoor facility for her spider monkey,” Kerr said. “Spider monkeys are, of course, controlled by the state.”

Commissioner Kevin White said he thought allowing chickens in areas of the county where they are currently banned would “open Pandora’s box.” Robinson disagreed, telling his fellow board members that residents “ought to be able to use your property as long as it does not infringe on your neighbors.”

“I don’t think this opens up Pandora’s box to spider monkeys and miniature horses and everything else,” the commissioner said.

Kerr advised commissioners to wait and watch how the city’s rewritten ordinance pans out. The board, instead, told him to get back with them soon on some rewrite possibilities.

Also during today’s meeting, Commissioner Marie Young encouraged her cohorts to “search the cookie jar” in an effort to find the needed money to offer county employees a 1.5 percent pay increase. There was little appetite to pursue this, with other commissioners suggesting the issue be taken up again during budget discussions.