Town advisor urges local building code enforcement to attract businesses

by Geoff Fox

Citing businesses that have wanted to open shop in Hancock, Town Advisor Bill Valentine told town officials they need to look at having real code enforcement. Council and the mayor need to look into buildings that are not up to code and need refurbished, Valentine said.

The discussion came about after Valentine reported on a woman who wanted to open a clothing boutique. Businesses have trouble finding acceptable buildings to occupy, he said.

Even though businesses are wanting to come to Hancock, there are a lot of empty storefronts that aren’t in any condition for them to move in, he told council members last week.

Valentine requested the mayor and town council make a motion for the town to request an inspection of a list of certain buildings on Main Street.

On that list, Valentine said the buildings have “very noticeable exterior violations of the code.”

That code would be the Washington County building code.

In his plan, Valentine said once the inspections are done, town officials would get a list of the violations and then send the property owner a letter drafted by the town’s attorney, listing the violations and possible fines if the violations aren’t repaired.

There would also be a request for the town to do a follow up inspection.

Councilman Roland Lanehart, Jr. questioned if the town could do such an inspection, prompting a response from Town Attorney Ed Kuczynski.

Kuczynski said the town could make the request, but the owner could either allow or deny entrance for the inspection.

However, Kuczynski said if there is a denial of entrance, then the town would have to prove a reasonable cause and execute a search warrant.

Kuczynski also said the town, code provisions would allow for exterior inspections such as porch and decking that would be a safety hazard, gutters, or paint chipping away.

The biggest problem he said, the county doesn’t have a property maintenance inspection process. The City of Hagerstown, on the other hand, does have such a process.

The town has contracted with the county to enforce Hancock codes, which are county codes. Those codes cover the issues Valentine brought up.

If the town couldn’t get the county to assist, Kuczynski said the town could independently hire someone to do the inspections and write those people up.

Those inspectors, in knowing the codes and exterior codes, could be hired to do inspections. Getting inside would be tougher to do.

Kuczynski said with permission it could happen, but he didn’t know if people would openly give that permission.

He fills a position that has been vacant for just over 13 months. Former Town Manager Joe Gilbert was fired during the June 8, 2021 town meeting. Consultant Bill Valentine has been acting as the town’ s advisor while officials decided how they wanted to replace Gilbert.

Mayor Tim Smith said Faith came to him and did everything the proper way, so he accepted the resignation.

Smith then moved on to appoint Faith as town manager.

The town took a number of applications and ran through them, three of which stood out and were considered, said town officials. One of those was Faith’s application.

When it came down to the interviews, Smith said the applicants were from out of the area a “pretty far distance” and were from larger municipalities.

“At that time it wasn’t a matter of like their experience, they were way out of our budget for what we could afford,” Smith said.

In going back through the applications, he couldn’t find any that stood out with the experience, knowledge, “or anything” that could handle the position.

This brought him back to Faith’s application.

Smith met with Faith and interviewed him, letting him know what was expected of the position, he said.

Smith added that when people call him about something, he’s going to tell them to contact Faith instead.

“You’ll be the new guy getting all the phone calls,” Smith said.

Town officials have 14 days to appoint someone to fill Faith’ s seat on town council.