By Michael Howell
The Hamilton City Council passed an ordinance on first reading May 15 that would prohibit the use of hand held electronic communication devices while operating a motor vehicle. According to Special Projects Director Dennis Stranger, the ordinance was modeled on the ordinance currently on the books in Whitefish, but with simplified language including the consolidation of definitions, excluding the use of the words “cell-phones and other devices” in favor of the catch-all formulation of “hand held electronic communications devices.” Under the new law motorcycles and four wheelers are included under the definition of motor vehicle.
The ordinance does allow for the use of cell phones from a motor vehicle in the case of an emergency, such as calling the police or 9-1-1. It allows the use of two-way radios such as those used by the public works department and the schools. The ordinance also allows the use of cell phones in emergency vehicles such as police cars, ambulances and fire trucks. According to Stranger, the ordinance does not exempt volunteers, such as volunteer firemen who have a red light on their dashboard, from complying with the law. Stranger said that the police department was currently working on a policy that would restrict the use of cell phones by police officers strictly to emergency purposes.
The penalty for violating the ordinance is set at the same general level as other city code violations, up to $500 and/or six months in jail, but Stranger said that the judge would set the fine in each case and he did not expect to see stiff penalties applied, especially on first offense. There is also a ninety day period of implementation when only warnings would be issued.
The ordinance was passed on first reading by a vote of 4 to 2 with Councilors Helgeland and Munson dissenting. The ordinance must be passed again on second reading at the next council meeting to become law.
In other business the council held public hearings and approved zoning regulations for several properties in town. The effort is part of an ongoing process to zone city properties that have remained un-zoned for reasons that cannot be recalled. The City initiated zoning requests were all unanimously approved and drew no public comment.
The newly zoned areas include:
• The Hamilton Mobile Village Trailer Court, which was annexed when a lift station was installed to serve the area, was designated a Mobile Home Park zone.
• Property located at 700 Desta Street, which was annexed in 1993, was zoned Single Family Residential.
• Property located at 173 Glenroy, which was annexed in 1973 and has a duplex located on it, was zoned Multiple Family Residential.
• Property known as Pine Park Condominiums, annexed in 1971, was zoned Multiple Family Residential.
• Property located at 101 Taylor St., annexed in 1966, was zoned Mobile Home Park.
The council also approved two new job descriptions in the Public Works Department that will allow for cross training of employees to work both for streets and sewer.
It was noted that donations to the City’s annual fireworks display are up to $6,500. The city aims to raise about $10,000 for the event. There was some discussion about establishing a regular funding mechanism to augment the donations in the future, such as a $2 to $3 fee per stall at the Farmer’s Market.