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Bill would force homeowners to clean properties

February 22, 2001

Bill would force homeowners to clean properties



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


ANNAPOLIS - One woman had so many cats in her Hagerstown row house that it triggered her neighbor's allergies.

A Carroll County, Md., woman had filled her home with so much trash that her roommate died in a fire when rescuers couldn't get to him in time.

Two Hagerstown-area homeowners allowed raw sewage to run through their neighbors' yards.

All the cases have one thing in common - the scofflaws refused to obey court orders to clean up their properties.

State law, which only provides for a $50 fine, doesn't give them any incentive to do so, county health officers testified Tuesday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

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Health officers are supporting a bill, introduced by Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, to increase the maximum fine to $1,000.

The bill also would allow local health departments to spend up to $5,000 to fix the problem instead of $500.

"We are trying to move a mountain of garbage with a teaspoon and we are asking permission to hire a dump truck instead," said Cecil County Health Officer Virginia Bailey, speaking for the Maryland Association of County Health Officers.

The $50 fine has not been increased since it was set in 1886, testified Charles Zeleski, Carroll County's environmental health director.

"Is it any wonder people ignore the health officers' abatement orders?" he said.

Washington County Director of Environmental Health Rod MacRae said the law needs to be changed for offenders who have learned how to use the system to their advantage.

The case of the woman with the cats in Hagerstown was never legally resolved, MacRae said.

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