County Commissioners got some “push-back” Wednesday from a couple of local restaurant owners who recently learned that fees for inspections of their restaurants are proposed to go up 12.5%. Subway restaurant owner Mark Watkins lamented that costs have been rising generally for his Subway and other restaurants and that if government keeps raising fees it’s going to further squeeze their industry. Watkins said “I give to local charities and youth sports programs all the time, but frankly, it’s getting harder and harder with rising costs across the board. And these fees are one of them. Prices I have right now are on the borderline of consumer resistance.” Sea Hagg restaurant owner Jerome Grant said he can absorb the extra cost but there are others in his industry that might not able to.
Health Department staff told the commissioners that restaurant inspection fees have not gone up since 2008. And in that time, overall costs for health department operations have increased, further complicated by new federal mandates on a higher level of complexity on food inspections; “an unfunded mandate”, as Commissioner Terry Thompson noted. Health staff also noted that food inspection costs are only 75% covered by inspection fees, so the county’s general fund is making up the difference.
In the end, commissioners postponed the fee hike, preferring to explore the possibility of stair-stepping the increase over time. They said they’ll take up the matter again at next week’s commission meeting.