Placer to float higher inspection fees
February 25, 2008
Local restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and schools could see health inspection fees jump dramatically.
The Placer County Department of Environmental Health Services inspects and provides services to many local businesses and public agencies, according to Director Jill Pahl. She and others within her office will recommend that the fees for those inspections and services increase by over 50 percent at this morning’s board of supervisors meeting in Auburn.
The fee increase is a response to Placer County’s budgetary belt-tightening in which all departments have been asked to come up with a plan to reduce costs and dependence on the county’s general fund. In the health service department, the target number is $2.3 million.
“The long and the short of it is all departments are seeing cuts,” said District 5 Placer County Supervisor Bruce Kranz, “[Environmental Health Services] are coming in with a cost recovery proposal.”
The current plan would maintain the department’s budget. But Kranz worried that small restaurants and other businesses may be hurt by the increase and said many local business owners have been vocal in their opposition to the fee increases.
“Out of all the issues in the last two months, [this] is the one with the most complaints,” he said.
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Kranz suggested reducing health inspections to once per year for restaurants with good performance records, or some other method for rewarding businesses for good performance while cutting costs.
But Placer County staff, by imposing the fee increase, will be just catching up to what they should be charging for the services they provide, Pahl said.
“The current fee with less than 50 seats is $429 [per year],” she said. “And if we were charging the full cost [to perform the service] it would be $744.”
Pahl said the reasons for the proposed rate hikes is an increased number of inspected facilities, an increase of regulations and fees that have not been reviewed in 15 years. The increases the department has received have not kept pace with the true cost of service, according to a Placer County Health and Human Services Department memo dated Jan. 15.
“No one had looked at what it takes to provide this type of service,” Pahl said by phone.
Staff cuts are not an option, said Pahl, because Environmental Health Services already has unfilled staff vacancies, “which means we are not providing the service we are supposed to,” she said. But her staff will suggest to the board a phasing-in approach to the fee increases over 12-36 months. Another possibility she will bring to the board is a delayed rate increase as an incentive for those businesses that have a good track record with the health department.
The county department provides valuable services to the community, Pahl said. And a local restaurant owner agreed.
“People hate audits and they dislike the inspector, but they are just trying to tell you how to improve, they are not the enemy,” said Fireside Pizza Company’s Rich Hinkel.
Hinkel said all of his costs, including wages, are going up, and this hike is relatively small.
Bric Haley, owner of a 100-seat restaurant and Chairman of the Board for the California Restaurant Association said the hardship to restaurants is not the relatively small cost increase, but, like Hinkel said, the cumulative cost of doing business in the state.
“Costs are crazy across the board,” Haley said.
He said even the cost of delivery has gone up with higher gas surcharges from food and drink purveyors.
Kranz said, because the customer ultimately pays for the increase, he worries that smaller businesses, like restaurants with under 50 seats, may be shut down.
“Who pays? The person who buys the food,” Kranz said.