10/20/06 — Officials want to charge to inspect

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Officials want to charge to inspect

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 20, 2006 1:50 PM


News-Argus Staff Writer

The Wayne County Board of Health decided Wednesday to table a resolution that would allow the Health Department to charge restaurants and food stands a fee for annual health inspections.

Health Director James Roosen said all health departments were asked to bring the resolution to their health boards for consideration. The user fees could be used to support food and lodging programs.

The inspections are required by the state, Roosen said. With an estimated 300 facilities inspected locally -- hotels once a year, food establishments typically four times a year -- that represents about 1,000 inspections a year, he said.

"The state already collects $50 user fees from every stand to assist them with the food and lodging program at the state level," he said, noting that some of that goes to the Health Department as an incentive.

"We just want the legislation to be changed to allow local government -- boards of health -- to allow us to charge for food lodging inspections," he told board members.

"The proposal is to give Health Departments the option to set fees for these inspections. Right now, we're not allowed to do that," he said.

Roosen said that there has been some debate that restaurant inspections should be done by user fees, which might be seen as unfair. The proposed charge would be about $1,200 for each restaurant and hotel, he said.

Board member Efton Sager said that was too much.

Roosen said he expects strong opposition to the proposal.

"I have some really serious doubts whether this is going to be passed by legislators. I think there's going to be a lot of opposition to this," he said

Currently, inspection fees are absorbed through county taxes. Kevin Whitley of the county's Environmental Health department said that this is of particular concern when businesses request re-inspections.

Board member Dr. Cynthia Wiley suggested any fee charged could be turned into an incentive.

"If you get less than an A, charge a higher fee (for re-inspection)," she said. "If you get an A, you don't have to pay that fee."

Roosen said he liked the idea but didn't think it would go over well with the restaurant association.

Board members also debated how the resolution might be received publicly.

Board member Donna Edmundson said she was concerned about restaurants who had participated in the Health Department's "Golden A" program, which promotes recognition for consistent high marks on inspections throughout the year.

"As hard as we worked for the Golden A awards, I just want a little input from (restaurants and food stands)," Mrs. Edmundson said.

"Why should everybody else suffer for the ones that cause you 50 percent of the extra work?" asked board member Terry Frazer. "These re-inspections, they're not free any more."

Frazer suggested if businesses get inspected a second or third time around, that they be charged for the service.

"I think taxpayers would understand. It seems fair to me," he said.

Whitley said the way the state requirement is written, his department has to comply with re-inspections and has 14 days in which to complete them.

"And it's not costing (the restaurants) a dime to do it," Frazer said.

Sager said there should be a way to charge those who request re-inspection. Roosen said it might be a good idea to involve the local restaurant association in the discussion.

"I think so. I would hate to send out the wrong message to those who have worked hard for the Golden A's," Mrs. Edmundson said.