Berlin Tattoo Committee Sidetracked By County Rejection

BERLIN – Members of a Berlin committee this week agreed they would continue their mission of developing tattoo regulations for the town despite having their requests for a county code change denied.

On Tuesday, the Berlin Tattoo Ordinance Committee voted to make a favorable recommendation to continue its meetings on a bimonthly basis and to extend a moratorium on the establishment of tattoo shops after learning that the county would not pursue an amendment to the county code that would allow the health department to monitor tattoo shops in Berlin.

In a letter sent to town officials late last month, Harold Higgins, the county’s chief administrative officer, outlined the county’s position on Berlin’s request.

“After careful consideration, the County Commissioners are not inclined to adopt revised regulations in their capacity as the County Board of Health, which would then apply county-wide, including all municipalities in Worcester County,” the letter reads. “However, we understand that you may choose to adopt such local regulations that apply only in the Town of Berlin.”

Last fall, town officials voted to establish a 120-day moratorium on the establishment of tattoo shops in town and to create a committee that would develop appropriate regulations for such establishments after public outcry on a proposed ordinance that would require the presence of an osteopath or physician.

And in May, the town council voted to extend the moratorium another 180 days in order for the committee to pursue a change to the county’s code that would allow the Worcester County Health Department to monitor tattoo shops in Berlin. According to a staff report submitted to the council in May, under state law a health officer is tasked with authority over “skin penetrating body adornment procedures.” Because Berlin has no health officer – that function is handled by Worcester County – town officials said they believed the support of the county’s health department would be essential.

In response to the county, Mayor Gee Williams released a statement last Friday expressing his position on the issue.

“With the county’s decision to reject any revisions to the regulations to allow tattoo establishments in Berlin because they must be applied countywide, I believe this effort has come to an end,” he wrote, adding that it would be cost prohibitive for the town to establish and maintain its own municipal Board of Health to monitor tattoo establishments. “With no place to go, I anticipate Berlin’s Tattoo Ordinance Committee will, unfortunately for now, go into sleep mode.”

Chairman Matt Amey shared his frustration with the committee this week, but questioned if the county understood the town’s request.

“What we had talked about in the last meeting was putting forth a text amendment suggestion to the county to implement a specific Berlin mandate for health department inspections, which I don’t believe that was or has been relayed to the county,” he said.

Town Attorney Dave Gaskill, however, noted that he clearly stated the town’s intentions to the county.

“They are well aware we wanted them as the county Board of Health to carve out an exception for the town of Berlin …,” said Gaskill. “I was told if the county acts as the county Board of Health it applies everywhere in the county, including all municipalities.”

Amey added that while he was disappointed with the county’s decision, he had no desire to see the town adopt regulations requiring a licensed physician on the premises.

“That is the sole reason I am here,” he said. “If the mayor and council want to move forward with those regulations, I’m going to be opposed to that because I think that is unfair.”

To that end, Councilman Zack Tyndall, a member of the committee, proposed the committee request extending the moratorium with the intent to allow the committee to accomplish its goals of creating a more contemporary ordinance.

“We are trying to move forward with something that would regulate tattooing and make it a viable business …,” he said, adding that he agreed a municipal Board of Health would be cost prohibitive. “I somewhat agree with the fact we’ve hit a wall, but I’m willing to approach the wall a different way.”

Committee member Patricia Dufendach called for the county to address its tattoo regulations.

“This is a public health issue,” she said.

The committee voted 3-0, with Councilman Dean Burrell and member Dana Helmuth absent, to forward a favorable recommendation to continue holding meetings on a bi-monthly basis and to request a 90-day extension to the moratorium.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.