Delegation hears plea to raise fee Commissioners seek increase for nuisance, liquor violations

Homeless funding sought

Health Department wants tougher laws for property offenses

December 18, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

In their first meeting with Carroll's delegation, the county commissioners requested legislation yesterday to raise alcoholic beverage license fees and fines, fund a homeless shelter and toughen laws to control public health nuisances.

A proposal by the Carroll County Health Department to fine offenders up to $10 per day for the public nuisance of failing to clean up their property generated the most discussion during the two-hour meeting at the County Office Building.

Larry L. Leitch, director of the Health Department, complained that his department has struggled without success to clean up several county residences so filthy that rats and groundhogs breed there.

A videotape presented by Leitch showed one Manchester residence where broken furniture, rotted food and other debris were piled high on the front porch and lawn. Neighbors have complained of the home's condition since 1995.

Under the current law, an offender may be subject to a one-time $50 fine if found guilty in District Court of violating public nuisance laws. Leitch said the fee is not a deterrent because the fine often costs less than fixing the problem.

In the county's new proposal, the Health Department could seek Circuit Court order to stop the nuisance and assess a fine of $5 for each day that the offender fails to comply. The fine would increase to $10 per day if the offender made the nuisance worse.

"When you start talking about Circuit Court, I'm hoping to get their attention a lot quicker," Leitch said.

But members of the delegation questioned the necessity for the change.

After watching a videotape of one of the homes in violation, Del.-elect Carmen Amedori asked why residents choose to live in such conditions.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, head of the delegation, cautioned that the government's power to fine and seek court orders should be used sparingly.

"There are people who live like this all over the world and that seems to be their lifestyle," he said.

The six-member delegation was also asked to find state funding for the county's Safe Haven homeless program, whose three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ends in March.

The shelter, at the old Shoemaker House near Carroll County General Hospital in Westminster, has 25 beds and serves substance abusers and the mentally ill.

A new facility was planned, but a dispute over an appropriate location ended the project. The commissioners changed long-standing plans to build at a site on Stoner Avenue, near its current location, in favor of county-owned land near Route 140 and Center Street, an area once known as Crowltown. Westminster officials protested vehemently, raising environmental concerns over the proposed location.

After more than a year of feuding, the state asked for the return of a $125,000 federal grant to build the shelter.

Jolene G. Sullivan, director of the Department of Citizen nTC Services, said she doesn't expect the program to receive the same federal funding it did in 1995. About $150,000 has been raised to cover operating costs, but the shelter still needs $150,000. She asked the delegation to help.

Haines said that the state will need to do its share.

The delegation also heard routine county requests yesterday, including legislation to authorize bond issues and make changes to local alcohol laws.

The Board of License Commissioners asked for legislation that would allow it to suspend an alcohol license and impose a fine when businesses violate alcoholic beverage laws. The board also asked that the state increase county fees for temporary beer, wine and liquor licenses from $30 to $50 per day.

A public hearing on these legislative requests will be held next month.

Carroll's delegates yesterday also learned their committee assignments. Del. Joseph M. Getty, who had served on the Commerce and Government Matters Committee, will join Amedori on the Judicial Committee. Del. Donald B. Elliott was again assigned to the Environmental Committee, a position he has held since 1987. And Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale will serve a second term on the Appropriations Committee.

Pub Date: 12/18/98

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