Ocean City Today

County, OC could complicate Berlin’s tattoo regulations

Enforcement arm of health department would require board of health approval
By Josh Davis | Feb 01, 2018
Photo by: JOSH DAVIS/OCEAN CITY TODAY Members of the Berlin Tattoo Ordinance Committee discuss potential new regulations during a meeting at Town Hall, last Thursday.

(Feb. 2, 2018) While the Town of Berlin continues to examine new tattoo regulations, finding an inspection arm to enforce those regulations could be difficult.

During the second meeting of Berlin’s new Tattoo Ordinance Committee last Thursday, Worcester County Health Department Director Rebecca Jones and Environmental Health Director Ed Potez told the group their authority is limited.

“We can only enforce regulations … passed by the state, or regulations passed by the board of health – nothing else,” Potez said. In that latter instance, the Worcester County Commissioners function as the board of health.

“In other words, if the Town of Berlin were to pass a tattoo ordinance, the health department would not be helping us,” Town Attorney David Gaskill said.

Planning Director Dave Engelhart said town officials had hoped the commissioners sitting as the board of health would authorize the health department to oversee inspections. “We’re not looking to open our own health department,” he added.

Jones said she asked county officials to review the existing regulations, which were passed during the 1980s. She said no meetings have been scheduled, but “the conversation has started.”

“Based on the discussion, I think that the county would have to rescind their current ordinance regarding tattoos and pass, acting as a board of health, a new ordinance with these regulations,” Gaskill said.

A potential obstacle, repeated many times during the meeting, is Ocean City, where tattooing remains unpopular with city officials.

Potez said any new action by the board of health “would have to apply … to everybody. Keep in mind, it will involve Ocean City – and what’s going to happen there?”

“The board of health cannot leave Ocean City out” of new regulations, Potez added.

If Berlin were to pass its own tattoo regulations, according to Gaskill, the town would have to pay for its own health inspectors.

Councilman Dean Burrell, a committee member, said he wanted more information at next meeting, including whether inspections could occur and how they would be conducted.

“If we could get that information, maybe we could put a cost associated with what it would take to do this. Because, what’s going to drive this is money,” he said. “The bottom line is money, and I really would like to have some idea of what we’re talking about when we say maybe this is something Berlin can do.”

Committee Chairman Matthew Amey, a tattoo artist, reached for comment on Monday, said the discussion left him with more questions than answers.

“It was a lot of information to absorb at one time,” he said. “I honestly don’t know what members of the tattoo committee are thinking in terms of what direction to go in.

“Ultimately, because Ocean City is such a big elephant in the room in terms of the conversation about this issue … I’m hopeful that the town can figure out a way to either talk to the county or go on their own and have the health department as a standalone, complaint-only participant,” he added.

Amey said enforcement by the Wicomico County Health Department was complaint driven.

“I’m not saying that they’ve got a good model or a bad model, I’m just saying it’s existing over there,” he said. “As one of the professionals at the table in the industry, my concern is public health and safety.”

The committee is scheduled to meet again on March 27 at 6 p.m. in Town Hall.

In the meantime, Amey said he would meet with committee members and Engelhart to gather more information.

“I really don’t know what we’re going to offer or present to the town … until I do more research,” he said. “My goal, before our [next meeting] is to try and coordinate with everyone, individually, to try and keep moving forward and not wait until the meeting to do stuff – get stuff done outside the meeting. Find out if we can move forward.”

As for the politics of Ocean City, Amey said he is unconcerned.

“My argument is it’s not about Ocean City and it’s not about the county – it’s about Berlin,” Amey said. “I don’t know if the Town of Berlin can afford to go it alone, but at the same time I don’t know what costs are involved if they decided to go in that direction, so I want to find out.

“If it is a viable, affordable option, hopefully the town will take it under consideration, because otherwise it’s the status quo …  and nothing changes,” he added. “Unfortunately we live in a world where we’d better expect change and embrace it.”

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