(3/22) Emmitsburg's Commissioners cautiously moved forward with a proposed ordinance at their March 18 meeting to permit town residents to keep hens in backyard coops. The Board unanimously agreed to send a recommendation to the Planning Commission to alter the "prohibited uses" section of the town's zoning regulations to allow the keeping
of hens, but not roosters. They also agreed that any additional regulations will be codified under the Charter's section on keeping animals, which currently only contains provisions for dogs.
The Council has not yet approved a precise set of regulations for backyard coops, but will likely accept a pared down version of a proposed ordinance by Town Planner Susan Cipperly. Based on research of similar ordinances in other municipalities, cities, and counties, Cipperly's recommendation included requirements for residents to obtain
permits from the town, keeping hens in moveable enclosures, and for the coops to be kept at least 30 feet from neighboring households for safety reasons.
"My intent on this was to allow people to keep chickens, but also protect the neighboring properties from the smells, and the safety issues, and the noise if there is any," Cipperly said.
The commissioners agreed with several of the provisions, especially those pertaining to basic public health considerations, but sought to defer to county regulations as much as possible to limit the town's involvement in monitoring backyard coops.
"If you have a dog that's driving your neighbor crazy, we don't get involved in that," Commissioner Patrick Joy said. "And I don't want us to get involved in a chicken fight either."
So far no residents have expressed any objections to the Council to allowing chicken coops in town.
Later in the meeting the Commissioners continued discussion of an adjustment to town water rates that could lead to residents seeing a noticeable increase on their water bills. For the sake of simplicity, the Council directed Town Manager David Haller to model the rate increases after those the Board recently approved for wastewater
According to Haller, the town has fallen short of fully funding the depreciation on its water enterprise fund for the past three and a half years, leaving a gap of around $200,000. As directed by the Council, town staff prepared rate increase schemes that would bring in an additional $20,000 per quarter in order to avoid increasing the
shortfalls going forward.
The commissioners discussed the fairness of the plans and how rate increases will be weighted for each consumption bracket, particularly the group of top users, whose large demand drives most of the costs.
"There's a lot of expense in having the amount of storage we have," Haller said. "We have a million dollar tank because there are some spigots, for lack of a better term, that are very large, and when they're turned on, if you don't have a great deal of storage, you will run out of water quickly."
Haller will present the water rates proposal based on the recent sewer rates model at the next Town Council meeting on April 1.
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