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County no longer on the fence about permits, licensed installers

St. Charles County residents now don’t have to hire a licensed fence installer to put up a fence in the unincorporated area.

The County Council approved a bill, by a 5-1 vote at its Oct. 10 meeting, repealing requirements for occupational licenses for fence installers. Nonetheless, some councilmembers suggested they may revisit the fence issue because of some gray areas.

“It may be a case of being careful what you wish for,” said Councilmember Joe Cronin [District 1], who cast the lone no vote.

Cronin said his fellow councilmembers were concerned about eliminating red tape and expenses for farmers and rural residents who wanted to put a fence up. But the issue gets more complex for subdivision residents who want to put up fences separating their yards from neighbors. Fences are installed in tight areas near property boundaries and utility lines where fence installers should know what they are doing, Cronin said.  He added that the license also can keep out unscrupulous contractors.

“I’ve got second thoughts about this,” Cronin said.  “I’ll go along with it but it may be something that comes back and bites us in the butt down the road.”

Councilmember Joe Brazil [District 2] pushed hard for the repeal.

“It’s too much government telling people what to do,” Brazil said.  He said improper installations are a civil matter and the county should not be involved “if the guy puts it up poorly and damages something.”

The issue arose when the council adopted of updated building codes on July 5. Those codes included the elimination of a fence permit. “Without the requirement of a permit to install a fence, the requirement to license fence installers should be repealed,” stated Michael Hurlbert, the county’s director of community development, in a memorandum to County Executive Steve Ehlmann last month.

Councilmember Donald Hammond [District 4], a former county building official, said having installers licensed was not an issue before the county required fence permits.

Councilmember Michael Klinghammer [District 6] said he shared some of Cronin’s concerns about fences in subdivisions and suggested further discussions on the issue of how to address whether permits may be required in more urbanized areas.

“Since we don’t have a permit right now, I don’t think this bill causes any problems,” Klinghammer said. “We need first to put in the process to have a permit and then come back and say whether it will address the issue of whether or not it needs to be a licensed contractor who [puts up the fence] or not.

Ehlmann said he can recall fence issues coming up only once when a fence was installed by a contractor who didn’t pull a building permit that would have told them where to install the fence. He said what the council has is a one-time situation to weight against hundreds of times when county residents would have come in and acquired a permit.

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