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Eatery health inspection fee hike proposal sent back

Restaurant, grocery reps want inspection increases phased in
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County restaurants could be seeing a phase-in of inspection fee increases they say are too much too soon. The Board of Supervisors is asking environmental health officials to explore the possibility of a three-year or even five-year phase-in period on increases intended to have businesses being inspected pay the full cost of the visit. Supervisors heard Tuesday from both owners of smaller restaurants in the county and representatives of statewide organizations representing the restaurant industry grocers. Grocery stores, auction houses and mini-marts are some of the other businesses targeted for increases in inspection fees starting July 1. A phase-in period is definitely needed, said Tim James of the California Grocer's Association. Stores are facing increases of 75 percent to 175 percent in inspection fees when a one to two percent profit margin is being very, very successful, he said. Bric Haley, owner of the River Ranch Lodge in Truckee and a California Restaurant Association officer, said the increases are hitting eateries at a time when cost increases are happening across the board. We feel a five-year phase-in period is appropriate, Haley said. This is probably not going to devastate the business but for some smaller restaurants, it would have a major impact. The current inspection fee is $429 for a restaurant with less than 50 seats. Acting on orders from the Board of Supervisors for all departments to bring back a fee structure based on full cost recovery, the environmental health division estimated its billable cost per hour at $148.77. The estimated costs “ and charge for the proposed fee in the case of smaller restaurants “ would be $743.84, or 73 percent more than the current fee. Restaurants seating between 50 and 99 people are facing a fee increase from $567 to $922. For eateries 100 seats or larger, the fee would rise 85 percent “ from $580 to $1,071. Supervisor Rocky Rockholm told the meeting that he would be comfortable with a 75 percent fee recovery rate. Fee recovery is at about 50 percent now, the meeting was told by CEO Tom Miller. Rockholm added that he would like to see increases phased in over three years. Supervisor Bruce Kranz said that if the recovery rate is now at 50 percent, that could be enough for now. Keep in mind that taxpayers are going to pay one way or another, he said. Matt Williams, owner of Café Zorro in Loomis, said that when he learned of what amounts to a 70 percent fee increase for his business, his initial reaction was that they were both unfair and unreasonable. Especially to us small business owners, Williams said. It don't think they took into consideration our budgets. The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com, or post a comment at auburnjournal.com.