NORTHAMPTON - The town recently adopted a law regulating mass gatherings and discussed another law to lower the penalty for property code violations.
Under the town's new "special event permitting law," residents who want to host an event with 300 or more people must get a permit from the Town Board and notify the town 45 days in advance.
The new law, adopted Wednesday, won't change any previous agreements that businesses such as bars and restaurants may have with the town regarding mass gatherings.
The Town Board passed the law in a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Linda Kemper voting against it.
Councilmen William Gritsavage and Bob Ellsworth said they don't know if the law will cause any problems and will deal with any potential problems accordingly.
"I think time will tell," Ellsworth said. "I don't think I've ever seen a law that has passed from any source that as time has passed hasn't caused [any questioning]. I believe it's pretty well written."
Both councilmen said an August public hearing helped the board members clarify the law.
The law charges $75 for a permit for a one-time event and requires adequate restrooms for events.
When a mass gathering ordinance was being developed in January, residents and officials said noise and disruption from music festivals at the Solid Rock Horse Rescue Ranch on Maple Grove Road, just north of Northville, triggered the decision to pursue the ordinance.
Kemper and Code Enforcement Officer Matt Ginter met Oct. 12 to discuss lowering the penalty for violations of the property maintenance law to make the law easier to enforce.
Ginter said the town justices haven't been prosecuting offenders, because they don't think it's right to charge someone with a misdemeanor for the offense. That has led to people violating the law because they know they're not going to be prosecuted, he said.
"Trying to get people [to come] into compliance without being too hard on them is my goal," Ginter said. "Right now, it's a misdemeanor. That's serious. It's on your record. I think a judge will be hesitant to charge them with a misdemeanor for having trash on their lawn. But if it's a problem for months, we have to do something about it."
Ginter explained that a violation of this law would result in a fine for the first two offenses and a misdemeanor for a third violation.
Violations could range from having old, unlicensed cars on a property or having excessive garbage on a property.
There is no set fine for a violation. Ginter expects fines to vary based on how fast a person cleans up the property.
"I think you get people's attention when you hit them in the wallet," he said.
The town will charge violators with a lesser offense of a violation with the option to increase the charge to a misdemeanor if the violation is a recurring problem.
"Right now, [the law is] a joke on the street," Kemper said. "People don't bother [to follow the law] because they know that it will be thrown out of court, they will be given a discharge or it won't be enforced."
Kemper said she has talked with other supervisors in the county, and they also changed the wording to lessen the charge.
Ginter, who recently took over as the code enforcement officer, said some cases have been ongoing for years, and the change in the law will help stop the problem.