St. Mary's Commissioners Pass Watered Down Residential Sprinkler Ordinance

By Adam Ross, County Times

LEONARDTOWN, Md.—Commissioner Thomas A. Mattingly Sr. (D-Leonardtown) has been a volunteer fire fighter for 42 years, so it was no surprise when he choked up Monday night while urging his constituents to support a residential sprinkler mandate on all newly constructed single and two family home constructions utilizing public or shared water systems maintained by the Metropolitan Commission, and subdivisions with six or more lots.

The commissioners listened intently as Mattingly delivered more than 7-minutes worth of prepared comments, but his conviction did little to sway them: the board vetoed Mattingly’s motion by a 4 to 1 vote. Not even Daniel H. Raley (D-Great Mills), Mattingly’s confidant, could support the legislation that cost new home constructions on private well systems up to $12,500 in additional construction costs – 42 percent of the anticipated single and two family home constructions in the RPD next year will be constructed on private well systems. That equates to 365 of the 867 planned home constructions next year being on private well systems, according to statistics provided by land use and growth management.

“Ever increasing demands on volunteers will require changes to our system in the future,” Mattingly said, “but we do now will help address those needs.”

Cost has been a concern throughout the public hearing process. Contractors in the region have indicated a cost of $1 to $1.50 per square foot of living space to install the system, and if a home is not on a public water system there are added costs for a booster pump and water storage tank. Approximately 47 percent of the newly constructed one and two family homes have been constructed in the RPD in the last five years, where public water and sewer is often not found.

After the motion died, the board unanimously passed a watered down mandate. It requires all new one and two family residences with public water on the MetCom centralized system or by a shared system under Met-Com maintenance to install the sprinkler systems. Installation is optional for all other residences, except builders of duplexes and multi-family homes, which are already required by law to install the fire protection devices.

“I think half the loaf is perhaps better than no loaf at all,” Commission President Francis Jack Russell (D-Point Lookout) said. “This is the step in the right direction to move us into the future.”

The mandate’s effective date is Feb. 1, 2008, and all constructions approved before the effective date will not have to comply. The commissioners will offer relief by way of a property tax credit to residents who install the system. The particulars of that credit will be worked out in subsequent meetings.

Mattingly, distraught by the final decision, reminded the commissioners that their decision meant more lives would be lost.

St. Mary’s County joins five counties and 13 municipalities across the state requiring sprinklers in some kind of new residential development. Mattingly said Carroll County has already seen a return on their investment by adopting the ordinance. Typical response time for a volunteer fire squadron is anywhere from 8 to 12 minutes, but a fire typically burns out of control within 6 minutes. The commissioners observed a live simulation of a sprinkler system extinguishing a fire in less than 50 seconds, this summer.

There were 111 residential fires in St. Mary’s County in 2006, and $7 billion in property damage throughout the county in 2005, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Mattingly responded to public criticism of his position saying he wouldn’t move to a new state with his ideas, and that he was born here and people would have to put up with him.

After Mattingly made his motion Monday, Raley seconded it so it could be voted on.

“I seconded the motion because I believe Tom Mattingly deserved to have the issue brought for a vote,” Raley said just before he voted against the motion, “we all know he feels so passionate about it and I thought for this motion to be held out there without a second would be disrespectful.

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