Union Bridge proposal aims to curb excessive police calls

Seeks fines for properties logging over 1 per year

February 25, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The Union Bridge Town Council has introduced an ordinance that would charge property owners for more than one police nuisance call within a 12-month period.

While almost all of the council's conversation during the past few months has been about landlords and problem tenants and guests, the ordinance would apply to private homeowners and businesses as well, Mayor Bret D. Grossnickle said yesterday.

"We're not singling out landlords," he said. "I don't know if this is even going to work. ... We're going to try."

As introduced Monday night, the ordinance would provide that a written notice be sent by mail and be posted at a property after a police officer has been dispatched more than once to an address. The notice would list the date and circumstances and advise that the property has been placed on a probationary list for two years for an assessment of charges for excessive police calls.

The fine would be $500 for a first extra call and $1,000 for subsequent calls. The fine would amount to a lien on the property that would be collected by the town. There would be 30 days to appeal to the mayor and council to contest a notice.

The town clerk-treasurer would keep a list of properties on probation. The owners would have a 15-day appeal period for a hearing within 45 days. If the assessment were to be upheld, the owner would have to pay all costs, including attorney's fees. Further appeals would be to Carroll County Circuit Court.

The impetus for the ordinance came last summer when about 60 police calls were made in one month to an apartment house address on Elger Street for noise, domestic problems, fights - "cabin fever kind of stuff," Grossnickle said.

He said the town began thinking about dealing with the problem about six months ago.

The town pays $36,000 a year for 20 hours of policing by a deputy sheriff, he said, and the town doesn't want to spend it "concentrating on one or two spots."

Council members introduced the ordinance with the understanding that it would be modified before it goes to a public hearing, which could be as soon as next month.

Grossnickle and several council members said they want to avoid penalizing landlords who might have more than one unit at an address or who might evict one problem tenant only to get another, and to include a way for the owner to petition to get off probation.

"The way it's written now, every offense is combined, cumulative. It should be unit-specific," Grossnickle said.

Town Attorney John T. Maguire warned that too many changes might require "a lot of additional language" and make an ordinance more problematic. But he said, some kind of "relief valve" could be put in to allow an owner to petition to be removed from the probation list.

"We are not directly controlling the landlord-tenant relationship," Maguire said, but hoping to make the landlord more responsible, "making the landlord pay the freight for ... the multiple calls."

"When I suggested it, it was not so much to punish the landlord for multiple people but the one person ... who generates the multiple calls," Grossnickle said.

Also Monday night, town consultant James L. Schumacher outlined a five-year capital-improvement project list that was approved this month by the Union Bridge planning commission. It includes more than $3.5 million for work on town buildings, water, sewer, streets , sidewalks, parks and other facilities.

Many of the projects might never be realized, said Grossnickle, who characterized the program as "a wish list" for a small town.

But a new water tank will be needed with the construction of two housing developments that are expected to triple the town's population of about 1,000, he said. The size of this second tank probably will need to be increased when it is built, from 300,000 to about 450,000 gallons, he said.

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