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County jacks up health fees

Inflationary costs prompted the Island County Board of Health last week to approve increasing environmental health service fees.

All fees, with the exception of food program fees, had remained static since 2002.

Health Department Director Tim McDonald laid out the new fee schedule for the board members, beginning with a 30 percent increase to review and permit food service establishments.

The food service fees include a punitive mechanism to alleviate some of the headaches that have historically plagued the Health Department. For establishments requiring an annual license, a stiff penalty of 50 percent of the annual fee will be imposed for facilities that continue to operate 30 days beyond the expiration of their previous year’s permit without submitting and paying for the current year.

“As chief bill collector, I can tell you that it is extremely difficult to get the smaller places to pay without this level of penalty,” McDonald said. “It’s like pulling teeth to get fees.”

The adopted revisions to the fee schedule for the first time also provide a mechanism by which the Health Department is able to issue a semi-annual permit. The semi-annual permit is designed to divide the costs of the annual permit in half to reduce the financial burden.

Late fees equating to 50 percent of a semiannual fee would also apply.

The largest overall jump of 36.5 percent occurred in living environment fees. In addition to mobile home and recreational vehicle parks, the category also includes inspections for pools and spas, and for schools, with the fees dependent on the number of students for the latter category. The increase was proposed after Health Department staff reevaluated the resources invested in the program activities.

The other fee increases were set for the drinking water and liquid waste programs at 3.5 percent and 8.6 percent, respectively.

McDonald said the new fees were calculated using the costs that are required to run the programs. Although the fee increases taken singularly appear significant, the director provided the commissioners some perspective. All of the proposals together have an annualized fee increase of less than 1 percent since the last fee increase in 2002.

Island County, like everywhere else in the universe, has become dotted with espresso stands. The permit fees for the small businesses — formulated based on a food establishment’s risk of causing or spreading food-borne illnesses - increased from $243 to $315, the dollar amount identical to convenience stores and slightly higher than the $250 for bed and breakfasts. Bakeries will see an $81 increase and now pay $440. Taverns that do not sell food will pay $403.

Restaurants are charged according to their seating capacity, the new fees ranging from $577 for an establishment with no seating to $1,017 for a facility with more than 100 seats. The presence of a cocktail lounge tacks on an additional $390.

Grocery stores are evaluated by the number of check stands. Fees start at $515 for one to two check stands and top out at $603 for stores with more than four. Delicatessens, bakeries and meat or fish markets add $250.

Permit fees for mobile home parks with between two and 30 spaces will increase from $160 to $218. And RV park fees will jump to $238. Schools with less than 100 students will pay $134 for annual inspections, with the numbers climbing to $355 for institutions having 100 to 500 students and $532 for schools with more than 500 kids.

Public well site inspections have also increased from $391 to $405 and individual inspections saw a $6 hike, going from $182 to $188. Administrative waiver or appeal requests increased by $1 and sanitary surveys will now cost $313, an $11 difference from 2007.

The new fees will become effective as of Jan. 1.

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