Lincoln County Commissioners today backed off a bit on a sizeable increase in health inspection fees for bed and breakfast, motel and restaurant health inspections. County health officials proposed a 12.5% boost in those fees citing no fee increase had been sought over the last four years while costs have risen and from new rules handed down by the state that are driving up inspection costs.
On the restaurant end of things, Newport Subway owner Mark Watkins said repeatedly that government is bullying him into paying higher fees to have his restaurant inspected. He said “Higher food costs, higher labor costs, higher sewer and water rates, higher rates for worker’s comp and now this restaurant inspection fee, are all eating away at my profit margin. And I can’t just raise my prices because I can’t. I’m already getting push back from my customers.” Watkins went on to say that he’s been able to pay more than the minimum wage for his workers “but those days may becoming to an end” he said, “if I can’t get some relief from all these increases.”
Commissioners told Watkins that the county does not collect the full cost of health inspections, in fact, only 83% of it. “It means, Mr. Watkins, that the taxpayers of Lincoln County are subsidizing your health inspection costs to the tune of 17%, because the county’s general fund is being tapped to pay the rest of it,” said Commissioner Bill Hall.
Depoe Bay Sea Hagg owner Jerome Grant, who is running for the State House, said he sympathized with both sides of the argument. “I’m a restaurant owner too, and I feel Mark’s pain. But we have fifty employees between our two businesses and their livelihoods are affected by this decision, which has an effect on the county’s economy.” Grant suggested that instead of a 12% bump in rate, why not split the difference and go with a 6.25% increase?
Commissioner Terry Thompson replied that the county should assume some of the blame for the sticker shock of 12.5%, since the county hadn’t raised inspection fees since 2008. But he added that “Costs for the county have increased all four years, and there has been additional inspection mandates from the state. Plus, the state gets 9% of every fee we collect. Something’s gotta give.”
In the end the commissioners racheted down the increase from 12.5% to 9%. They also moderated increases for small bed and breakfast, restaurant and motel operations. Commissioner Doug Hunt suggested the lower rates in that he disagreed with the way staff had justified raising the rates as much as they did. “We analyzed how our surrounding counties gauged the fees and adopted those,” one staffer explained. Commissioner Hunt quickly said “That approach I have concerns with. Just because it’s done one way somewhere else doesn’t make it appropriate for Lincoln County. Each county and city does things differently for different reasons, reflecting unique budget contingencies that may or may not even pertain to Lincoln County.” Staff replied that they would take those comments to heart. As a result, commissioners levied a 9% increase on inspection fees for small B&B, motel and hotels, as well as on their much larger competitors who had not been asked to pay a higher fee.
Commissioners said they will approve the new health inspection fee schedule at their July 11th meeting. Inspection fees vary by the size of the restaurant. With the 9% increase those with up to 15 seats the rate will be $493 dollars a year, 16-50 seats $541, 51-150 seats $645, and more than 150 seats $729.
For health inspections for bed and breakfast and small motels and hotels, 1-10 rooms with the 9% increase, the fee is $87.20, 11-25 rooms will be $158.05, 26-50 rooms will be $295.39, 51-75 rooms, $424.01, and 76 rooms and over $541.73.
For R/V Parks, 1-25 spaces, it’s $158, 26-50 spaces it’s $295, 51-75 spaces $424. 76 and over, $497 plus $2.94 for each unit over 100. Organizational camps are $136.