Berlin Hoping For Exemption From Sprinkler Requirement

BERLIN � The town of Berlin introduced an ordinance at Monday�s Mayor and Council Meeting exempting it from the new state requirements regarding the installation of sprinkler systems in residential developments. The ordinance will be open to a public hearing on Nov. 22.

The new regulation, which states that all new one- or two-family dwellings must have automatic sprinklers, is part of the International Residential Building Code, a code Maryland has already accepted, an act that has sparked discussion all over the state.

At the county level, the Worcester County Commissioners still have not decided whether to look for an exemption from the new sprinkler rule. If they chose to do so, it could result in reduced state funding. A hearing on the issue is planned for sometime later this year.

As for the what impact the issue will have locally, Berlin officials have decided that regardless of which direction the county may go with the sprinklers, the town would not make them mandatory in new residential construction.

�We�re looking for an exemption from the regulations for two reasons,� Mayor Gee Williams said. �First, the town fire company is centrally located. Second, there would be no tax differential from the county.�

Williams later reinforced the fact that the Berlin Fire Department provided all necessary coverage for the town.

�As small as the town is, I believe we have excellent coverage,� William said.

The mayor pointed out that the Berlin Fire Department, which celebrated its centennial this year, has an incredible safety record.

�I do think, historically, they�ve done a great job,� he said. �We�ve had the fire company for a hundred years and while some buildings have been severally damaged during that time, the really devastating fires that could have happened have not. � It�s exceptional fire protection.�

The second reason that the town is seeking an exemption from the regulation is cost. Because there isn�t much chance for a tax differential from the county, the cost of the sprinklers would likely go to the builder who would then pass it on to the property owner.

Williams said that the tax differential would have been a big factor but was not, �realistic at this time.�

Councilman Troy Purnell, a local developer, expressed his opinion that whether or not a building has a sprinkler system should be left up to the owners, not be made mandatory by the government.

�I think government intrusion has gone too far,� he said. �It�s become a case of imperial entanglement.�

Still, even with all of the reasons listed against it, there�s no denying that sprinkler systems have the potential to save property and lives. While there�s little chance of the sprinklers negatively impacting a home, there is always a chance of them being accidentally set off and causing water damage. Generally, however, it comes down to a matter of cost versus benefit, which is why Williams and the rest of the council encourage the public to speak at the Nov. 22 hearing.

�Personally, I want public input to help the council make the judgment. Then we�ll see how the council interprets the waiver,� Williams said. �Our philosophy is to put it out there. I�ve found that the biggest public input is usually for the smallest issues, not the big ones.�