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Commissioners delay action on licensing builders

January 27, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - The Washington County Commissioners may not license home builders locally, even though the Maryland General Assembly gave them that authority last year.

The commissioners decided behind closed doors last week to delay action on local regulations until they see the outcome of a statewide bill, said Commissioner William J. Wivell.

The commissioners likely will talk about the issue Tuesday in open session, he said.

The Home Builders Association of Washington County is upset about the delay. Members are worried it will ruin their plans for local oversight.

"We kind of felt abandoned," said Jim Parker, president of the Home Builders Association of Washington County. "We were disappointed they didn't come to us and tell us about it."

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County Attorney Richard Douglas said just because the commissioners were given the authority to license home builders doesn't mean they must follow through.

Although the builders' association has proposed a set of rules, the county will have to write its own rules taking into consideration the needs of many different community groups, Douglas said.

The county didn't want to start such a complicated and time-consuming process if it will be covered by new state regulations.

There are two bills being drafted to license home builders statewide, said the Maryland Home Builders Association.

One would exempt Washington County from statewide regulations. The other would allow local regulations as long as they are as strict as state regulations.

The local lawmaker whose committee will review those bills said he can make sure Washington County is exempt.

"The whole purpose behind last year's legislation was to protect Washington County. We were supposed to insulate ourselves from any statewide regulation," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

Douglas said there's no guarantee the exemption will stay in the bill.

Wivell, who originally opposed getting county authority to license builders, said he still has concerns.

Rules that change from county to county would be confusing for home builders. The local law also might jeopardize individuals' rights to act as their own building contractors, he said.

The home builders association first asked for local licensing in 1994, said Executive Director Debi Turpin.

That group of commissioners decided against pursuing a law, but the current group agreed in 1998. The law was passed in 1999.

The association favors a local law, rather than a statewide law, because consumers would get better and faster enforcement, Turpin said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said the commissioners should take action soon if they want the exemption. Their colleagues in the General Assembly will want to see that Washington County is pursuing regulation.

"It's us who have to save face down here," Munson said.

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