State, Harford tackle problem of illegal signs

People put signs for just about everything in the medians and along the sides of roads in Harford County.

But Harford County and the state are trying to remind residents the signs, unless previously approved, are illegal and need to be removed.

Starting Oct. 1, the state could fine people up to $25 for putting an illegal, commercial sign in a state right-of-way. Harford County, meanwhile, plans to follow suit by instituting a volunteer sign removal program, which, at least for now, will not include a fine for violators.

Denise Lynch, an administrative specialist for the county's planning and zoning department, told members of the Dublin-Darlington Community Council last Wednesday the county plans to take a more aggressive approach to the proliferation of signs.

"It's kind of getting really crazy now. They pose a traffic safety hazard and they are a blight on our community," Lynch said at the meeting at the Conowingo Dam Visitors Center. "We are getting overrun with them. We are getting a lot of phone calls."

The removal program is being modeled on the Adopt-a-Highway program, recruiting volunteers who can be the county's eyes and ears.

"We have specific instructions and we are getting folks to sign up to be responsible to canvass these intersections and remove these illegal signs, which will be disposed of," Lynch said. "We are basically going after signs that are in right-of-ways, median strips. They are not supposed to be there."

"Actually, those kinds of signs are not supposed to be anywhere," she went on. "We wanted you all to be aware of it in case you are all putting signs out. There's a chance those signs will be taken down."

Lynch said the county has not had the resources to enforce the no-signs rule, and is still not planning to actively punish anyone.

"At this time, we are not fining anybody. We are just picking them up, and folks will get a follow-up letter [saying], 'We took your sign down; it's illegal,'" she said. "You are supposed to have a permit for a sign."

Lynch said this is the county's first time trying such an initiative.

"We have never had this program before. It's a new program," she said. "We are hoping it will be successful."

Three people have volunteered for the program so far, Lynch told members of the Abingdon Community Council at their meeting Monday night.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer can call the planning and zoning department, 410-638-3103.

The state bill also gives local jurisdictions more authority to deal with signs, Sen. Barry Glassman said.

"The State Highway [Administration] could always do it, but this bill broadened it to allow county government or anyone to do it," he said, adding the bill enables local law enforcement to take signs down as well.

Glassman said this is not the Maryland General Assembly's first time tackling the issue, as the state tried a similar program in St. Mary's County about 10 years ago.

He agrees the problem is real.

"I hate to say it, but even inBel Air, it's become an eyesore," he said. "I think over the last few years, we have heard from more and more county citizens."

Other state laws that go into effect Oct. 1 include:

• Raising the sales-and-use tax on the sale of an alcoholic beverage to 9 percent;

• Changing the circumstances by which a person can be heard by, or appeal an action of, the Maryland Insurance Commissioner;

• Requiring law enforcement officers to record data pertaining to traffic stops and report it to the Maryland Statistical Analysis Center;

• Requiring the State Commission of Real Estate Appraisers and Home Inspectors to adopt regulations requiring a demonstration of continuing professional competency of up to 30 educational hours as a condition of renewal of a home inspector license;

• Repealing provisions that provide for a direct wine seller's permit and establishing a direct wine shipper's permit to be issued by the Office of the Comptroller;

• Allowing for an income tax break of $3,500 to qualifying members of the Maryland Defense Force;

• Prohibiting a foreclosure sale purchaser from collecting rent payments without conducting a reasonable inquiry into the occupancy of the property and serving each tenant a specified notice;

• Establishing the Commission on Maryland Cybersecurity Innovation and Excellence to make a report regarding cybersecurity and innovation by Jan. 1, 2012, and a final report by Sept. 1, 2014;

• Repealing a regulation that requires procurement procedures to seek to award 7 percent of the total value of contracts to African American-owned businesses and 10 percent to women–owned businesses, and replacing it with a goal that 25 percent of the total value of contracts be made to certified minority business enterprises;

• Establishing a Task Force on the establishment of a statewide spay/neuter fund.

• Distinguishing between public, private nonprofit and for–profit institutions of higher education and clarifying that a person is prohibited from engaging in unfair or deceptive practices in offering specified educational services for sale;

• Giving a 20 percent income tax credit to qualified electric vehicle recharging equipment for tax years 2011, 2012 and 2013 only, to be limited to $400;

• Requiring county boards of education to conduct specified audits under specified circumstances and requiring local school systems to reimburse the state for employer contributions for specified employees participating in the Teachers' Retirement System or the Teachers' Pension System;

• Giving a sales-and-use tax exemption for the sale of electricity generated by specified solar energy equipment or specified residential wind energy equipment for use in residential property;

• Requiring nonpublic schools that participate in state-funded education programs to adopt a policy prohibiting bullying, harassment and intimidation by March 31, 2012;

• Revoking specific authorization from a person who unlawfully takes striped bass or crabs;

• Giving an income tax credit for costs incurred in film production activities and repealing the Film Production Rebate Program;

• Requiring the State Department of Education to provide awareness to coaches, school personnel, students and parents or guardians of students on the risk of concussions and head injuries;

• Prohibiting the sale of children's jewelry that contains cadmium at 0.0075 percent by weight after July 1, 2012.

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