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Grease, property issues stump
Thurmont leaders

Chris Patterson

(2/16) Thurmont's town commissioners have been in a quandary about how to proceed with two different ordinances for months now.

The first ordinance would control discharge of grease and oil by homes and businesses into town sewers and a second ordinance would provide guidelines for lot and property maintenance.

Some residents and business owners have expressed concern about the ordinances, and say they do not want laws in place legislating these issues.

But town commissioners have significant concerns about the $1.1 million the town is spending on renovations to the sewer lines and want to protect that investment.

And they are also responding to concerns from many residents that some property owners are creating unattractive or unsafe conditions in their yards that threaten public health and safety or have an adverse effect on surrounding property values.

The question is whether to create laws to control the problems or not.

In workshop discussions at Tuesday's town meeting about the proposed ordinances, board members went around and around about how to handle the problems.

Most of the board wants to avoid legislating controls for the community on oil and grease drainage that would require town staff to inspect and monitor for compliance. To avoid that, the board has been working on a system of voluntary compliance.

Commissioner Wayne Hooper said he is concerned that the board is allowing for voluntary compliance with grease drainage, but is trying to legislate how people maintain their properties. He said the grease problem threatens to damage the town's sewer system, but the lot maintenance problems have no cost to the town.

Hooper suggested attempting to ask for voluntary compliance with cleaning up lot maintenance problems around town.

Commissioner Bill Blakeslee agreed that the way the board is approaching the two problems is inconsistent and offered to approach the owners of the problem properties personally, asking the residents to make some changes.

Problems with lot maintenance include abandoned cars, dilapidated structures or health concerns resulting from damaged, unused pools creating conditions supporting mosquitoes.

Commissioner Ron Terpko said the discussion on lot maintenance has been drawn out for weeks and none of the properties that have been the subjects of complaints have changed at all.

"I don't see how sending a letter is going to help because again, we've done everything but give these people's addresses out over the air and you don't see anything change," he said. "Maybe it will, but I just don't think it will."

Blakeslee encouraged the personal approach, reminding the board that an ordinance can still be written if the personal requests do not work.

Mayor Martin Burns said he wants to go "as easy as possible" and "ratchet it up" to creating an ordinance, if that becomes necessary.

The board agreed Burns would draft a letter to specific property owners telling them that legislation is being considered regarding lot maintenance and asking them to take care of their property. The town attorney and the board would need to approve the letter before it is sent.

However, the grease ordinance is another matter for Burns.

He said Wednesday that he has learned town staff regularly haul away buckets of grease from the town's wastewater treatment plant, which indicates to him that an ordinance is crucial.

Though the board left the matter open at the meeting, Burns said he plans to ask the board to support an ordinance at the next town meeting, on Tuesday.

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