Perryville's landlord-tenant ordinance may not be necessary, one commissioner says

After briefly reviewing the town's rental dwelling code during Tuesday's Perryville work session, one commissioner questioned whether the code is entirely necessary.

The code, better known as the landlord-tenant ordinance that went into effect Nov. 1, 2009, holds owners of rental units responsible for their tenants, as well as the rental properties.

When the ordinance was adopted, the town board agreed to periodically review the code for effectiveness. This was the board's first review of the code.

Mayor Jim Eberhardt commented to the board that in the two years since the code went into effect there had never been an appeal before the board from a resident. Town planner Mary Ann Skilling clarified that there had been two hearings, but nothing was ever brought up before the board.

The town has 527 registered rental units, Skilling noted, while there were 718 in 2010.

Commissioner Alan Fox mentioned that Montgomery County has a handbook for a similar code that could potentially give Perryville ideas on how to improve on the ordinance.

Commissioner Michael Dawson wanted to hear Skilling's opinion on the code, adding, "I think we should get rid of the ordinance altogether."

Dawson went on to ask what the purpose of the code is if there's never been a complaint to landlords. Commissioner Michelle Linkey later said there have been complaints, but none were appealed.

"It looks like just a money rip to me," he said.

Skilling explained that some of the rental units are "not what we [Perryville] consider up to standard," and the town needs to add definitions to the code, clarify the terms of penalty fees and have inspectors look at new units. Knowing the town is keeping an eye on landlords, she said, "does make a big difference" as to how the units and tenants are treated.

Dawson said he felt like issues between a landlord and tenant were of a civil matter and the town was "just creating another level of government" for the problems to be worked through.

"It seems like we're duplicating this," he said of the steps that need to be made to make and resolve a complaint.

'Quiet zone' request

A resident who has lived on Frenchtown Road for more than 20 years requested that the town look into what it would take to designate a railroad crossing near her home to be a "quiet zone," or an area where the train wouldn't be allowed to blow its whistle, Cathy McCardell, Perryville's administrative supervisor, told the commissioners. McCardell added that Port Deposit isn't "giving out" quiet zones anymore because of accidents that occurred in those areas because the train did not signal.

Eberhardt asked what the signaling requirements are for a train, or if there is a minimum number of times the train has to blow its whistle before a crossing, and McCardell said it depends on each crossing.

To create the quiet zone, she went on, would be "very costly," with a price of up to $500,000. Because of the high cost, Eberhardt said the first step the town should take is be to contact the train company, Norfolk Southern, to see what the signaling requirements are and to find out if they have a "horn happy engineer" blowing the whistle an unnecessary number of times or if the train is meeting the required standards.

"Has something changed with Norfolk Southern requirements?" Eberhardt asked, referring to the resident living on Frenchtown Road for more than two decades who only recently made the request. McCardell said she would look into the matter.

Parade and Autumn Fest

The town's annual Autumn Fest and parade, which was on Oct. 8 this year, didn't receive the number of volunteers it normally does to put together the events, and didn't receive enough donations to cover the costs of both.

McCardell, who helped with the festival and parade, said the night before the events, she and four other people, including from the Greater Perryville Chamber of Commerce, were the only ones to set up, while the day of the event there were eight total volunteers, which "is not enough to run both events." While the events still went on and Autumn Fest food vendors were happy with the turnout, McCardell said there were issues with both.

Since the amount of donations received for the events wouldn't cover the total costs, the town will need to pay for the remainder with money coming from Perryville's parade budget.

McCardell explained that without using any of the donations, the town would need to pay $2,415. If half of the donated funds were accepted, the town would pay $1,315, making the total of donations $2,200. The town had budgeted $4,800 for parade expenses.

The Chamber of Commerce had volunteered to run both the parade and festival this year, while in previous the years the town had either run both or worked alongside the Chamber of Commerce.

Commissioner Barbara Brown suggested that if "the chamber can't do it," then it should turn the responsibilities back over to the town and it would help. The events were also scaled down from previous years because of the chamber's lateness in starting the entire process of running the events.

In other business from Tuesday's work session:

The board discussed recommendations from a planning and zoning public hearing Oct. 17 that dealt with a mapping mistake in the town's zoning map. According to the map, Richmond Hills senior apartments were zoned as R-1, low-density residential dwellings, instead of R-3, where multiple-family dwellings usually reside.

Skilling noted that an adjoining apartment building that was built around the same time as Richmond Hills is designated R-3.

"This complicates a lot of things for them to make renovations," Skilling said of the mapping mistake. At the December town meeting, she went on, the planning and zoning committee will make a recommendation to the board for the mistake to be fixed and the board will then vote on it. "We're just talking about something that should've been done at the time of mapping," she said of the mistake.

Town Administrator Denise Breder said there will be a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at Perryville's town hall before the regular town meeting at 7 p.m.

Four quotes for online payments services through the town's website was presented to the board. Residents will be able to pay their water and sewer bills online through either Edmunds and Associates, FIS, NBRS or PNC, depending which company the board decides upon. An estimated 500 residents are expected to use the online payment service for the first few months.

Town employee Amy Parker told the board that Edmunds would charge the town $1,200 a year to use the service, and charge customers a convenience fee of $1.40 per check transaction or $3 for a credit card transaction, but it depends how much the system gets used. Parker explained the fees would be set for six months and reevaluated after that.

PNC would charge the town 25 cents to transfer funds to the town's banking account and customers would be able to view their billing information online. The town would be charged $208 annually and it would cost $120 to set up. The town would also have to pay 25 cents per payment made and 13 cents per transaction up to 500 payments — the fee would be 50 cents per transaction after that — and would need to keep a minimum balance of $10,000 in its banking account.

FIS would be free for the town to use, but charge the same fees to customers as Edmunds. The difference, Parker explained, is that customers wouldn't be able to access their information online and would need to have their water and sewer bill handy while paying so they could input their account information and amount due.

NBRS would not provide customer account information online, but would waive its annual fee for the town. It would, however, cost $125 to set up the service, $50 annually as a compliance fee, $10 per month for service and $5 for maintenance. Customers would be charged 25 cents per check payment and a percentage of whatever their bill was that month. Customers would also have to open a checking account with the bank

Dawson asked why residents couldn't just use online banking through their own banks or credit card companies, and Parker replied that some credit cards don't offer that option. She added that providing this service through the town's website would also help people who pay their bills the day before the due date or the day before their utilities are shut off and aren't at home to pay the bill or can't get to town offices to pay in person before they close.

Breder and the board confirmed that the town wasn't able to use a $22,000 grant from the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) because it doesn't have the funds and resources to provide for a project the grant would have been used toward. The grant was accepted during a town meeting in March 2010 under the stipulation that the money would be returned if the town wasn't able to find a project that met the grant's requirements or would cost the town too much.

"We did more or less find that project," Breder explained, but would require the town to "put a significant more amount of money into it" than the grant provided. The project would have been to improve the heating system in town hall. She also made that point that it "didn't make sense to spend that money" if a new town hall was going to be built, which has been discussed in previous meetings.

Eberhardt agreed with the conclusion to return the grant money, saying there were "so many strings attached to it," such as providing monthly status reports, weekly time sheets and interviews to the MEA.

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