On Tuesday, Lowndes County will hold a public hearing concerning its proposed burn ordinance.

The ordinance would restrict open burning in high density neighborhoods to two Saturdays a month. The commission is attempting to weigh the rights of homeowners against the rights of those whose neighbors are burning leaves within mere feet of their houses and those with severe asthma and allergies who simply cannot tolerate the smoke.

Georgia law already prohibits the burning of anything other than leaves and yard waste -- no one should be burning garbage, although some homeowners are suspected of doing so. The county code enforcement office is charged with following up on complaints, not law enforcement or the fire department. And the ordinance does not restrict burning on open fields or for residences not in high density neighborhoods.

So why is there so much opposition to the proposal? Vocal county residents, both for and against the issue, have appeared before the commission, making impassioned pleas about personal rights on one side and about personal health, safety and well being on the other.

The Times editorial board questions the need for anyone in a subdivision to burn yard debris more than twice a month. The county operates a number of collection sites which homeowners are welcome to utilize at any time to prevent debris from accumulating.

It is difficult to argue against safety and health concerns, even at the prospect of limiting individual rights. The question is a long standing one, debated since Americans began living in close quarters in organized societies.

In 1859, John Stuart Mill wrote the famous treatise "On Liberty," stating: "Every one who receives the protection of society owes a return for the benefit, and the fact of living in society renders it indispensable that each should be bound to observe a certain line of conduct towards the rest."

It is not unreasonable for homeowners to be expected to respect the property and health of their neighbors. This ordinance is necessary and should be passed.

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