By Ally Lanasa, Staff Writer
(Nov. 12, 2020) The Berlin Mayor and Council on Monday agreed to extend the town’s current tattoo moratorium to Nov. 18, 2022 and to reconvene the Tattoo Ordinance Committee.
Town Attorney David Gaskill said in 2017 town officials learned they had no regulations for a tattoo parlor in the Berlin town limits.
“I was instructed to draft an ordinance outlawing tattoo parlors within the town limits,” Gaskill said.
A Tattoo Ordinance Committee was formed that included Mayor Zackery Tyndall and Councilmember Dean Burrell in fall 2017. Its creation was in response to community concerns that a proposed emergency ordinance was out of date and not in the best interests of the town.
The Tattoo Ordinance Committee met with representatives from the Worcester County Health Department, researched licensing options and determined the support from the health department was vital for the health and safety of tattoo parlor customers in Berlin.
The committee also recommended changes to the ordinance and requested that the mayor and council ask the Worcester County Commissioners to modify their code to permit tattooing in Berlin on May 14, 2018.
Then-Mayor Gee Williams sent a letter to the county commissioners on May 25, 2018. The county commissioners responded on Aug. 23, 2018.
“It was determined that the county health department either would not or could not help us to ensure that if a person opened a tattoo parlor within the town limits that their proper safety protocols would be in place,” Gaskill said. “That’s how this moratorium was born.”
If the town proceeds to license tattoo parlors, the county would respond to complaints. The county is legally obligated to do so under Maryland State Law.
The staff recommendation was to enable the Tattoo Ordinance Committee to finish its work on the draft ordinance to allow tattooing in the town and to continue the moratorium until the town obtains the support it seeks from the Worcester County Health Department.
Members of the Tattoo Ordinance Committee, Matthew Amey and Dana Helmuth, attended the meeting to share their opinion.
“Dave is correct in everything that he stated,” Amey said. “Basically, the barrier that we ran into was discussing with the health department the need for inspections for these types of establishments.”
Amey said he and Helmuth believe that tattooing is a viable industry and would like to move forward with the ordinance.
“We believe that regulations are necessary, whether or not the health department inspects and verifies that these locations are up to their standards,” Amey said.
He added that tattoo parlors in Wicomico County function as a complaint-based industry.
“There is no oversight unless there is a complaint that is submitted,” Amey said.
He continued that Worcester County overregulates tattooing, prohibiting decades-long professionals from working in their craft.
“There are stipulations within the county code that stipulates that their regulations apply to all lands lying outside of incorporated townships, which means that each incorporated township must develop their own regulations lest they have none,” Amey said.
Amey added that in 2017 someone wanted to open a microblading studio in Berlin.
“The town didn’t know what microblading was,” he said. “The health department came back and said ‘Microblading is a form of cosmetic tattooing. You don’t have tattoo regulations on your books. Here’s ours. Go ahead and use those. That’ll cover you.’”
Amey is hopeful that the Tattoo Ordinance Committee can reconvene with a new member to replace Tyndall.
Responding to Councilmember Jay Knerr, Gaskill said the moratorium is necessary to avoid inexperienced tattoo artists opening studios in Berlin without any oversight.
“We’re not covered by the county regulations,” Gaskill added.
Amey said in Wicomico County there have been issues with diseases being transmitted based on the complaints that were filed.
“We would like regulations that we follow,” Amey said. “Regardless of the municipalities where we work, we follow these because it’s not only our clients’ safety, it’s our own safety that’s on the table.”
Responding to Councilmember Jack Orris, Amey said the Tattoo Ordinance Committee has not met in over a year.
“The issue that we’ve run into is at the county level, specifically with the county health department and the lack of inspection oversight that is offered from the county health department,” Amey continued. “The county health department currently has an inspection mechanism for body piercing studios that exist on the Boardwalk. They do not have anything in their tattoo establishment regulations stipulating inspections by the health department for tattoo establishments. What we were hoping was that we could suggest or we could submit our regulations to the health department, and the health department would write a line item that would offer inspections for tattoo establishments that exist within Berlin.”
Gaskill said the county commissioners would have had to amend their ordinance to authorize the county health department to perform inspections of tattoo parlors within the Berlin limits, and they declined to do so.
Gaskill added that the Tattoo Ordinance Committee researched private companies to provide the inspections.
“We found a couple, but they were very expensive,” Amey said. “That was where the prohibited cost of that option was not an option.”
He continued that the county has inspection services for body piercing shops on the Boardwalk that use the same equipment as tattoo parlors.
“The only difference is the process,” Amey said. “In fact, body piercing is more invasive than tattooing. We create abrasions on the skin. Body piercing is piercing through the skin.”
Amey has not had this argument with the county commissioners because the information was related to them in a letter from Williams.
“I think [Williams] asked to get on the agenda and was told no,” Gaskill said. “You can only speak down there in Snow Hill if you get permission.”
Tyndall said the regulations discussed on Monday are only for the Berlin municipality.
He further explained that the Worcester County Commissioners function as the Worcester County Board of Health.
“I think it’s pretty clear from the discussion that we really need to extend this,” Gaskill said. “I think it’s a viable project that we undertook.”
Amey agreed that he wanted to extend the moratorium for two years and reconvene the Tattoo Ordinance Committee with new members.
Orris made the motion to approve the moratorium extension and reconvene the committee. It was unanimously passed by the council with the absence of Councilmember Shaneka Nichols.