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Address law is good, but fine is too high

August 10, 2012

We are always suspicious of one more law where there was none before, especially if the “problem” that the law solves isn’t obvious to a majority of reasonably informed citizens. We believe there should be a clear and present need for any new ordinance, and this goes double for laws that come with significant penalties attached.

It might not be apparent to the lay person that we have any real problem with house numbers and street names, but even so it is hard to argue against a proposed Washington County ordinance that would better structure residential addresses to make it easier for emergency crews to find the right home.

We do, however, raise an eyebrow at the maximum fine of $1,000 a day for violations of something that residents have been doing — or in this case not doing — legally for years.

Sure, a judge could impose a lesser fine along the lines of $5 a day. But anyone who has been fined by the government for just about anything would be amused at the notion that the law always seeks out the lowest financial penalty possible. The fine should fit the crime and having improperly sized house numbers is in no way a thousand-dollar-a-day offense.

Otherwise, much of what the ordinance codifies would appear to be matters of common sense — large, visible house numbers on the residence, clear street names and such.

But apparently it’s gotten to be a problem for response teams, and if it is a matter of public safety — and if there has been a genuine problem with compliance — we believe this ordinance is for the best. And we would urge the public to do its part to comply.

In retrospect, perhaps it was a bad idea to give local residents the option of choosing their own street names for the purposes of emergency response, even if the roads are privately owned.

Indeed, one of the problems the county says it has is the number of street names that sound similar. We would only note that other communities across the land seem to have figured out this problem (How many derivatives of “Peach Tree” are there in Atlanta?).

If the county believes this is the smoothest way to get emergency crews to the right house we will take it at its word. At some point, we would expect GPS applications to make all this a moot point, but until that day comes we support the county’s effort (provided it modifies the fine) to do what it needs to do to promote fast emergency response times.

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