Possible Jump in Fines for Downtown

Is the city of Burlington going to force residents and students to put their money where their mouth is?

Rumors have been spreading around campus about a jump in the price of noise violation tickets.

At the last Ordinance Committee meeting that took place on Wednesday, Oct. 9, noise violations appeared to be the issue of concern as about 50 students and a handful of residence came to voice their opinions.

What is being proposed is an increase in noise violations tickets to 500 dollars when people are having an exceedingly loud party or social event.

Any subsequent offences will also hold the hefty 500-dollar fine in addition to being deemed a criminal offence.

Not only are the people in charge of the party liable to receive a fine, but in the current language of the proposal every person on or about the property where the party is being held is liable to receive a 500-dollar fine each.

Ian Carleton, Ward One City Councilor, commented about the fine saying, “The first thought that came to my mind when I saw this was sometimes I do criminal law, and sometimes I have criminal clients who are accused of misdemeanors who plead guilty, and settle with the state of Vermont for less than 500 dollars.”

While an increase in the fine for noise violations seems likely, Carleton said, “Personally, I did not propose that number and I will not support it as a first offense.”

Students who live downtown are not looking forward to a possible increase in fines, Logan Junger, class of 2004 said, “Students already give a lot of money to the Burlington economy, I think they need to come up with a plan that does not include charging students more, I don’t think a ticket is going to solve the problem.”

Sharon Bushor, Ward One City Councilor, tried to clarify the intentions of the proposal saying, “I am not looking to screw you [students] I just want you to have a nice neighborhood to live in.”

During the Ordinance meeting, students expressed a range of concerns including how unfair such a large fine was, the repercussions students will feel if they receive a criminal record for a noise violation, and the fact that there is a lot of crime that happens in Burlington that police could be turning their attention to rather than noise violations.

Students also had lots of suggestion for an alternative to a fine.

Michael Weand, Class of 2003, suggested, “Scratch the 500 dollar fine and have a mandatory set hours of community service.”

The Burlington Community members were most concerned with the fact that they are unable to sleep due to the noise from these parties.

Many people at the meeting wanted to avoid a mentality of us versus them, and therefore suggested community-building activities.

George Hetfield, a member of the Burlington Community said, “Increasing the fine will make more animosity among the community members.”

Another issue that needs to be addressed in the proposed noise ordinance is a definite way that police hand out tickets, because in the current proposal their seems to be an unlimited number of people can receive a fine.

Ian Carleton sees the need for a more efficient system of handing out tickets, saying, “The cops have been coming to these parties and randomly handing out tickets to random people, as far as I am concerned that is a really inefficient way of handling the issues both from the student side and from the law enforcement side.

The problem is not the students who go to the party, but the problem house that keeps all of the neighbors up.”

Slapping a fine on the issue might seem like the quickest and easiest fix, but it probably won’t solve the problem of loud parties.

Residents of downtown Burlington site certain ‘party houses’ as the primary concern.

In the event that a fine does not deter party houses, one idea that is being considered is notifying landlords of their problem tenants.

Carleton says, “The city can try to crack down on the students, but they are going to continue to party and there are a lot of student houses out there, what you need to do is identify the problem houses and get in touch with the landlords, and say listen you own this property and the residents are keeping the people awake all over the place.”

Mary Kate Bennett, class 2004, had a suggestion for a way to cut down on the noise in downtown Burlington, she says, “We need to try to work on keeping the party inside, not being loud outside.

“Students are going to party, and the majority of the people who live downtown are 21.”

Carleton is not suggesting that students stop partying rather he says, “Students absolutely have the right to party, they just have to party responsibly.”

After numerous student comments the Ordinance committee has made no decision about the proposed changes in the noise violation ordinance and plan to continue their discussion at the next ordinance committee meeting.

Student can hope to see a reasonable fine combined with a more efficient way of giving out tickets.