Thursday Feb 14 2008
Eateries face fee hike for inspections
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
Burden of costs likely to trickle down to diners
Restaurants are facing higher costs for inspections as Placer County attempts to charge on a pay-as-you-go basis. Proposed fee revisions by the county's environmental health division have been met with resistance by some restaurateurs. They say the fees will create financial hardships and are too big a blow at one time. Supervisors have been hearing complaints about the proposed inspection fee increases. It's caused a firestorm in my district, Supervisor Bruce Kranz said. There are lots of issues we need to talk about. Kranz said he favors the carrot and stick approach, providing fewer inspections for restaurants that do well in health inspections. The eastern Placer County supervisor said that putting a greater financial burden on restaurants would likely mean increased costs will be passed on to customers. Roseville Supervisor Rocky Rockholm said he favors a phase-in for proposed increases, noting that his district's Denio's Farmer's Market is facing a $14,000 jump ““ nearly double what it pays now. Fred Sumara, Valero gas station and minimart owner in Foresthill, said Placer County is signaling it is no longer as friendly to small business. I feel we're being picked on, over-regulated and over-charged, Sumara said. Ty Rowe, owner of Auburn's Bootleggers Old Town Tavern & Grill, said the inspection fee increases will be at hard hit to businesses already dealing with higher credit card rates, workers compensation liability and other costs. Doug Mason, owner of Drooling Dog BarBQ in Colfax, said that he understands fees have to go up. But it's how they're going up, Mason said, noting some fees are doubling. The first indications were that they were only having a small increase, that it wasn't going to be a big deal. The current inspection fee is $429 for a restaurant with fewer than 50 seats. The environmental health division estimates its billable cost per hour is $148.77. The estimated costs “ and charge for the proposed fee would be $743.84 “ or 73 percent more than the current fee. For a restaurant seating between 50 and 99, the fee would rise from $567 to $922. For eateries 100 seats or larger, the fee would rise 85 percent “ from $580 to $1,071. New fees would be instituted for inspections in a number of areas where no costs are now charged. The new fees would be introduced at certified farmers markets ($297), private schools ($446), and licensed health care facilities ($595). Jill Pahl, director of environmental health, said that the fee revisions are moving toward a staff presentation Feb. 26 before the Board of Supervisors and a subsequent vote. Despite the criticism, the fee structure will be forwarded as initially proposed, Pahl said. I understand and empathize, Pahl said. Pahl added an additional proposal could result in introduction of an incentive program that would allow businesses with no current violations to pay at the current rate for a year. About 100 to 125 of the county's 1,800 facilities would be eligible, she said. The environmental health division has also formed a food advisory group to consider other incentives and other ideas. In a report made available to the Board of Supervisors earlier this month, Pahl said that over the past 15 years, environmental health fee increases have been based only on Consumer Price Index rates. Those benchmarks haven't kept pace with the county's growth and service delivery costs within the division, she said. The current fee structure provides 65 percent of the division's funding, Pahl said. The other 35 percent “ or $2 million “ comes from general fund revenues, she said. To offset the general fund contribution and reinstate extra help and overtime funding held out of the division's proposed budget for the coming year, the total cost recovery will need to increase by 40 percent to $2.3 million, Pahl said. Facilities have been fortunate in paying lower rates in recent years and not paying for the full cost of service, she said. And once the county gets to the full cost of service charges, it won't have another large jump, Pahl added. The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at email@example.com or post a comment below.