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Our Opinion: Rocky Mount, Wilson rules overstep, leaving truckers in the lurch

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Truckers torqued off by Rocky Mount's ridiculous new parking rules thought they could find more hospitality and smaller government a few exits down Interstate 95.

Not so fast, we regret to report.

Kowtowing to residents who complained about big rigs in their neighborhoods, the Rocky Mount City Council recently voted to banish vehicles longer than 25 feet and more than 10,000 pounds from residential areas. Truck drivers showed up to Monday's meeting in droves to protest the thoughtless move, according to the Rocky Mount Telegram.

Larry Kelley warned the council that he and fellow truckers may consider moving to Wilson if the ordinance isn't scrapped, the Telegram reported. 

That wouldn't do them any good — Wilson's had a similar law on the books for nearly a half-century.

"It shall be unlawful for any person to park or cause to be parked any truck or tractor-drawn trailer larger than one and one-half ton capacity upon any of the streets, public alleys or rights-of-way of the city within the residential areas of the city," Section 22-128(a) of the Wilson Code of Ordinances states.

Truck drivers are the backbone of America's retail economy. Most of what we eat, wear and buy is delivered by tractor-trailer, whether it was produced a couple hundred miles away or made overseas and ferried to our shores on container ships. There's currently a national shortage of truckers, with Fortune magazine reporting that the long-haul sector had 51,000 vacancies at the end of 2017.

Some drivers are employed by trucking companies that store and maintain their fleet of big rigs, but many independent truckers own tractor-trailer cabs and string together cargo loads for a living.

Homeowners in areas covered by the parking restrictions face daily dilemmas when they're unable to keep their work vehicles at home. Stowing trucks in private parking lots places them at perpetual risk of being towed. 

Rocky Mount council members suggested a particular shopping center, but drivers fear oversaturating that property could get their trucks permanently banished. 

City staffers are now seeking solutions to the problems their bosses created. Councilman Andre Knight said the city is "between a rock and a hard place." Not quite. The council never had to intervene, and neither did officials here in Wilson. They stuck their noses where they don't belong. 

People who can't park where they live are deprived of the full use and enjoyment of their property. Wilson has restricted tractor-trailer parking since 1969, so truckers here have long been on notice to make alternate parking arrangements or choose a country road over a city neighborhood. In Rocky Mount, it's an unfortunate bait and switch. Truck drivers bought homes without knowing city fathers would eventually leave them in the lurch.

If truckers can find a place to safely park their cabs that doesn't block street access, fire hydrants or utility lines and doesn't take up anyone else's space, why stop them? Who's being harmed? And why is it elected officials' concern? 

It strikes us as an extreme case of government overreach for a city council to wade into private disputes, summarily side with the first aggrieved parties to complain and pass a blanket policy that discriminates against all truck drivers, the errant and the blameless alike.

Spats between neighbors are better resolved person-to-person than by tattling to City Hall. If folks can't work out a reasonable solution between themselves, they have ample recourse through the courts. Remedies already exist if someone encroaches on your property line, squashes your prized flower garden or smashes your mailbox. 

Incidents where truckers and their neighbors are at loggerheads are isolated disagreements between a handful of people that call for specific, individual decisions from a neutral arbiter — like a small-claims court judge. They don't constitute a crisis that cries out for clumsy citywide policy. 

Rocky Mount should have more respect for private property rights than to arbitrarily banish all trucks from their owners' homes. When that big-rig cab is what allows you to pay the mortgage, the house where it's suddenly forbidden becomes a much less valuable place to live. 

Our neighbor to the north could rescind its parking ordinance before it takes effect on Oct. 8 if it can't find a way to mollify both truckers and their neighbors. In case Rocky Mount fails to see the error of its ways, Wilson ought to strike its truck ban from the books and welcome these hardworking men and women with open arms.

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