The Southport Board of Aldermen has sent its ad hoc golf cart committee back to the drawing board.

During its meeting last Thursday the board was scheduled to consider a revised golf cart ordinance for the city. 

The mayor-appointed committee began drafting the proposed changes in mid-July. Mayor Jerry Dove said he appointed the committee to look at the issue because some citizens had raised concerns about golf carts operating on city streets. 

One of the major issues, Dove said, was that many people reported seeing young children operating the vehicles, and others expressed concerns that people were consuming alcohol while driving. 

The committee looked at ordinances from other municipalities and proposed several changes and additions to Southport’s current ordinance. They included: raising the age for all golf cart operators to 18 years old; requiring additional safety features such as a rearview mirror, side reflectors and a windshield; and requiring state-registered low-speed vehicles to also display a city sticker. Those with state-registered low-speed vehicles would only need to show their registration and be issued a city sticker.

City planner Thomas Lloyd presented the ordinance, and he, along with city attorney Mike Isenberg, fielded questions Thursday from board members about the changes.

Dove asked why the ordinance restricted the size of the carts to three rows of seats.

Lloyd responded that any carts with more than three rows of seats were considered low-speed vehicles by state standards and were regulated by the state. 

Alderman Jim Powell asked if there was a reason the ordinance couldn’t be changed to accommodate golf carts with four rows of seats.

“The state law doesn’t say anything about that, does it?” Powell asked. “We used to have four-seater golf carts on Bald Head (Island) that we’d move people down the island on, and there’s some people in town that have got four-seater golf carts, and the reason why is because they’ve got a big family.”

Isenberg told Powell that there was a difference between a golf cart and a “low-speed vehicle”. 

“If it’s licensed by the state, and can go more than 20 miles an hour, it’s a low-speed vehicle, and we cannot regulate those,” Isenberg said. “If the state allows a four-seat one, then you can do it. But we can only regulate golf carts as defined by the statute, which means they cannot go more than 20 miles an hour. So, if they’re permitted by state law, we cannot prohibit those.”

Powell said he’d like for Lloyd and the committee to check into the statute regarding golf carts with four rows of seats.

Age requirement

Alderman Nelson Adams raised concerns about raising the age requirement, and said he had spoken with Lloyd about it prior to Thursday’s meeting.

“Of course, my question to you was, ‘If you can get a state driver’s license at 16 and run all over Southport and kill a bunch of people, why do you have to be 18 to drive a golf cart?’” Adams said to Lloyd. 

Adams said he didn’t see why the committee raised the age restriction from 16 to 18. 

Mayor pro-tem Todd Coring also questioned the age limit, and expressed concerns about the specific wording regarding the safety features, particularly the two headlights and rearview mirror.

He noted that some people use a LED light for their headlight and also have two side mirrors as opposed to a rearview mirror.

“Someone also asked why it requires a windshield,” he said. 

Lloyd told Coring that the committee had modeled its ordinance after other municipalities, which required those safety features.

“If there was discussion on the board where you didn’t think that was needed, you could certainly take that out,” Lloyd said.

Coring also had received feedback from citizens who said they were confused about the requirements for state-registered low-speed vehicles and wanted to know why the city also required them to have a sticker. 

“I think we need to do an education piece on this to our citizens, so they’ll understand what they need to do when operating golf carts and things like that,” Coring said.

Isenberg said the only thing state law requires is that no one under 16 can operate a golf cart on a public street.

“I think it was the committee’s choice to raise the age to 18,” he said. 

Adams cautioned the board to be careful in making the regulations more strict.

“A few years ago, we were pushed toward making stricter golf cart restrictions, and that particular item was pushed by an individual that stood to make a great financial gain by us making them more restrictive,” Adams said.

He said he wanted to be “very careful” about how restrictive the city gets in its requirements.

Further concerns

Isenberg pointed out that the ordinance actually gave rights to citizens, and he quoted the statute which reads: “Without a golf cart ordinance, it is illegal to operate golf carts on the roads.”

Adams said he didn’t mind the city having an ordinance, but he didn’t want to see one that was so restrictive it “took all the fun out of it.”

Dove said he primarily wanted to ensure that handicapped individuals could use the carts as a conveyance, and Lloyd noted that issue was addressed in the ordinance. They must have a note from a physician stating that they have a medical condition that does not permit them to have a license, but that it is safe for them to operate a golf cart.

Dove said he’d also like to see a provision for a separate permit that allowed individuals to operate golf carts strictly during daylight hours.

“Well, it can be put in there, but you’re asking a lot of the police department,” Isenberg said. “If they see one driving a night, they’ve got to make sure it’s got the right permit on it, and if they see one driving during the day, they’ve got to see if it’s got the right permit on it. You can do that, but I would just advise you to consider all the duties that you’re putting on the police department.”

Adams suggested making the ordinance available for citizens to review. Staff said they could make it available on the city website, and alderman Mary Ellen Poole reminded everyone that copies of the board’s entire agenda are kept in the library and at City Hall so members of the public can review it.

The ordinance was scheduled for a first-read, and the board requested that the city take another look at it, make some changes and bring it back to the board.

Alderman Karen Mosteller, who serves on the golf cart committee, along with Poole and alderman Rick Pukenas, said the committee would consider the board’s comments and thanked members for their input.

The city’s current golf cart ordinance and the draft with the proposed ordinance changes are posted on the city website at www.cityofsouthport.com