AUGUSTA — Local car dealers told city councilors if they enact a proposed ban on outdoor speakers it could cost them customers and jeopardize their sales staff’s ability to earn a living.

Councilors last night got an earful from car dealers and their neighbors about the proposed ban on outdoor loudspeakers at city businesses. The council is scheduled to consider a final vote at next week’s meeting, but last night some members wondered if the ban should go back to the Planning Board for additional review and discussion.

Charlie Shuman, owner of multiple dealerships through Charlie’s Motor Mall, said the “right now” nature of the car business means callers need to be able to reach salesmen promptly. He said a system of pagers or cellphones for each salesman would be unworkable.

“We do business the old-fashioned way — if you call my dealership, you’ll speak to a human voice, we have no voicemail,” Shuman said. “If you need a salesman, you’ll get one. The way to get to him is the paging system.”

Randy Hutchings, owner of O’Connor Motors, said his approximately 50 salesmen are not allowed to have their own cellphones on them while at work out of concern the cellphones would be distracting and hurt productivity.

He said buying a phone system that could send calls to 50 individual employee cellphones would be extremely costly. He said a new phone system he looked at recently, capable of sending calls to just four portable phones, cost $180,000.

He said dealers should be allowed to use whatever system to reach employees they wish, as long as it doesn’t bother neighbors. He said once his company learned, through the newspaper, neighbors were bothered by speakers at his lots, they turned off some speakers and turned down the volume on others.

Multiple neighbors of car dealerships complained Thursday and previously, noise from outdoor speakers at car lots were so loud it woke them up and interfered with them enjoying time in their yards.

“The volume of their loudspeakers are sufficient enough I can hear them when I walk on Sewall Street,” said Laurie Ladd, a neighbor of O’Connor’s State Street sales lot. “We’ve long since entered the 21st century, where communication devices are small enough to fit in our ears. Even the phone on my desk can be programmed to ring a cellphone.”

Hutchings said he has not personally heard of any noise complaints since he took ownership of O’Connor six years ago.

Shuman said his dealerships work hard to be good neighbors, and have already taken action to prevent their speakers from bothering neighbors. He said they have redirected speakers at his dealership so they point away from neighbors. He said they’re also working on other steps to make the speakers quieter.

“I’ve always been very concerned and very appreciative of our neighbors,” Shuman said. “We never knew speakers were a problem because no one ever complained. Then, reading the paper one day, I said, ‘Whoa, what’s this?’ In the meantime, like a good neighbor should, we took action.”

Lynn Lovaglio, who lives near Charlie’s Motor Mall, said Shuman did indeed come onto Smith Street himself to listen as adjustments were made to his businesses’ speaker system. And those adjustments to the outdoor speaker system, Lovaglio said, seem to have worked.

“I hear nothing, what Charlie did totally solved our issue,” she said. “And I could hear everything before. Charlie walked the street, he talked to us, and he made sure we heard nothing. We want everyone to understand there are adjustments than can be made.”

Hutchings said car dealers should have been notified the noise ordinance changes, which were recommended by the Planning Board, were being considered by the city.

“To not serve notice to us, was really offensive,” he said.

Local resident Bill Kieltyka, who deals in loudspeakers, said car dealers typically use cheap, “paging horn” speakers which produce an unpleasant sound. He said different speakers can be effective in reaching employees without producing sounds objectionable to neighbors. He also said such a system would cost drastically less than the $180,000 phone system Hutchings said he had looked into.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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