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Landlords' petition has 2,044 valid signatures

December 02, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The Washington County Board of Elections office has verified almost two-thirds of the signatures collected in an attempt to take the city's rental registration ordinance to referendum.

Of 2,336 signatures checked by Wednesday night, 2,044 were valid, said Kay Robucci, election board deputy director.

The board was closed Friday because of the holiday.

Counting will resume Monday. The election board has until Dec. 12 to verify that signatures are those of registered voters.

On Nov. 21, the Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County submitted to the city of Hagerstown a 407-page petition containing 4,297 signatures. The next day the petition was presented to the Board of Elections.

If the board confirms the petition has at least 3,400 legitimate signatures, the city cannot implement the ordinance unless the public approves it in a special election or in the next city election in March 2005.

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All five City Council members, who unanimously voted to adopt the ordinance on Oct. 22, have said they would call a special election if the issue goes to referendum.

City officials have said a special election would cost about $26,500.

The ordinance would charge landlords $45 per year per rental unit to finance regular inspections. City rental properties currently are inspected only in response to complaints.

The Hagerstown City Council and city staff say the program is needed to improve the quality of housing in the city.

The Landlords and Property Owners Association says the ordinance unfairly blames all rental property owners for the actions of a few bad ones.

The election board is scheduled to meet Dec. 10 with its attorney about the city's written request that it find the landlord association violated state elections law when it collected about 1,000 signatures within 100 feet of polling places on Election Day.

The association has denied any wrongdoing, saying it had the approval of election board Director Dorothy Kaetzel.

The board received a copy of the city's written complaint Nov. 12.

Under the program, properties will be inspected after a rental license application is submitted. Rental properties also will be inspected every three years or when there is a change in occupancy.

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