WASHINGTON COUNTY — Washington County is considering an ordinance requiring consistent addresses and clear road names, helping crews responding to 911 emergencies.
Planning Director Stephen T. Goodrich told the Washington County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that the ordinance would codify a long-standing policy.
The draft ordinance says new road names would have to be “easy to pronounce and spell.”
A private road with “more than 3 addressable structures or developable lots” would be required to have a name.
Address numbers would have to be at least four inches high on residential structures and at least six inches high on all other “addressable structures.”
Violating the ordinance would be a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 per day. Goodrich wrote in an email that penalties are needed to ensure compliance, but don’t have to be severe — a judge could impose a $5 fine, for example.
“It’s rare to find an ordinance that doesn’t have some type of violation/penalty/compliance/enforcement section,” he wrote in response to a reporter’s questions. “It just helps to convey the seriousness of the intent of the ordinances and is a last resort if other, more cooperative methods don’t work.”
During Tuesday’s public hearing, Williamsport Fire Chief Will Ball, the only person from the audience to speak, complimented the county for “trying to clean this up.”
He suggested an additional measure — addresses in the rear of buildings if they have access from an alley.
Ball said responding crews initially might see a row of buildings from the back, with no addresses.
Commissioner John F. Barr said agricultural properties might have a house and a barn that need addresses.
The commissioners did not take any action after the public hearing. They are expected to resume their discussion at a future meeting.
The ordinance would apply only to properties, addresses and roads that are in the county, outside of the municipalities.
A memo distributed to the commissioners says the ordinance “is meant to promote the public health, safety and welfare by providing for a method to assign unique addresses to habitable structures, commercial and industrial structures, communication towers, and certain public utilities within Washington County.”
The memo continues: “A clear and unique address is necessary so that fire and emergency service providers, law enforcement and mail carriers can accurately locate a structure. The ordinance codifies the means by which addresses have been assigned for the past 20-some years.”
In an email, Goodrich wrote: “An ordinance insures consistency in the way that addressing is implemented and increases confidence that addresses will be displayed correctly in support of public safety. The policy we operate under now doesn’t have the weight of law.”
During the hearing, Goodrich told the commissioners that he doesn’t know how many inconsistent or incorrect addresses are in the county.
In his email, he wrote that there is “a very wide range of ‘incorrectness’ that an address could have. An address can be 1 or 2 digits ‘off’ and those will be unlikely to cause a public safety problem.
“However, there are also addresses that are several blocks out of sequence, on the wrong side of the road and displayed incorrectly or not at all. Those are the kind that can cause a public safety problem and need to be corrected.”
During a phone interview, Ball said he sees properties in Williamsport that are not well marked, but not many. Some people put their addresses on their mailboxes, to help postal delivery, but not on their homes, he said.
Some property owners choose a name for their private road that doesn’t match what comes up in the county’s database when a 911 call comes in, said Kevin L. Lewis, Washington County’s director of emergency services.
Under the ordinance, the planning department will approve all road names, with input from the Division of Emergency Services. New names “will not duplicate or sound like an existing road name in the county, and will be easy to pronounce or spell.”
“Certain words are expressly prohibited for use as road names in the county due to their overabundant use in existing road names,” the ordinance says.
Asked about that, Goodrich wrote in an email that some examples of overused words that are usually avoided are “green,” “mountain” and “valley.”
Initials, suffixes as a primary name, names with fewer than three characters, and special characters other than numbers or letters will not be allowed in road names.
The county will change a road that has a “duplicative or similarly-sounding name.”
In those cases, property owners on that road can submit choices. A majority of the owners will decide the new name.