Anyone illegally burning leaves or kicking up too much dust at a construction site will face stepped-up enforcement efforts as part of a measure that became law this week.
The County Council voted unanimously Monday night to give county health inspectors power to issue citations to anyone who burns leaves or trash illegally.
Tom Andrews, county health officer, said the law is already included in state environmental health codes, but enacting a county law means county health inspectors will be able to respond more quickly to complaints about smoke, odors and dust.
He said the law will not require hiring any more inspectors.
Currently, complaints are referred to the Maryland Attorney General's Office, which requires three formal notices before taking action, Mr. Andrews said.
"With entities out there like Bethlehem Steel and the major industries, the attorney general has a lot of priorities. We're in a position to respond quicker to the smaller issues," Mr. Andrews said.
Donald O. Cordts, chief of the Health Department's community hygiene section, said that he receives about five requests a day for open burning permits and usually approves about one each day. Most permits go to commercial timber-clearing operations, he said.
Mr. Cordts said that his office has received five complaints about smoke, dust and odors in the last two days, and that they are the most common problems reported.
"Right now, without this, we have no direct way of dealing with these complaints effectively. This allows us to bring it home and to pursue problems in a timely way. We want a quick resolution to these issues," Mr. Andrews said.
Burning of leaves is permitted in areas where there is no public collection of leaves, as long as the fire is at least 300 feet from a home or place where people work or gather.
Burning of trash also is permitted, in areas where there is no public collection of trash. Again, the fire must be more than 300 feet from the nearest home or place where people work or congregate.
The law also requires contractors to take "reasonable precautions to prevent particulate matter from becoming airborne" at construction sites.
Violators are subject to civil penalties of up to $25 per day or criminal penalties of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.
In other action Monday, the council trimmed the amounts available for tuition reimbursement to county employees and enacted more uniform zoning codes to regulate private schools.
Tuition reimbursement was trimmed from 100 percent of direct tuition costs to 65 percent because of increasing numbers of workers applying for the benefit.
Ailleen W. Talley, director of training in the Personnel Department, said that the county budgeted $55,000 for the program in 1992 but ran out of money in October because 240 people applied.
"The bank was being broken," she said.
This year, $115,000 has been allocated.
Private schools in residential areas will be required to have at least 3 acres, with each building set back at least 40 feet from the property line.
The old law allowed varying acreage, depending on a neighborhood's density.
The measure, approved unanimously, also requires off-street parking to be 20 feet from residential property lines and 10 feet from public rights of way.
Councilwoman Maureen Lamb said the measure was recommended by a committee set up because of conflicts between growing schools and the neighborhoods around them.
Johnnie Garner, a 26-year resident of Hillsmere Shores, said that the presence of the Key School has meant problems with parking, buses and traffic over the years.
But he credited the school's administration with listening to community concerns, serving on the committee and helping come up with a law acceptable to both the communities and the schools.
"I think we're on the right track with this," he said.