Health District closer to raising food inspection fees

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Grant County Health Officer Alexander Brzezny at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Grant County Health District.

EPHRATA — The Grant Health District is one step closer to raising the fees it charges restaurant and other food establishment owners.

“The current program (would cover) 97 percent of the cost, but we only get 60 percent of the inspections done,” said Environmental Health Manager Jon Ness.

For the last several months, the Health District board of directors has been considering proposals to make the district’s restaurant and food safety inspection system pay for itself by doing fewer inspections but charging more for them.

That would free up other funding for essential health district functions like dealing with disease outbreaks, Ness said.

“Public services cost money,” said County Commissioner Tom Taylor, also a member of the board that oversees the health district. “The public should pay for those services.”

Under the proposed new system, fees for food establishment inspections will be based on the complexity of the food kept or prepared on site, and will rise anywhere from $80 to $300.

Ness said the district looked at other counties in Washington to compare inspection fees and see how other counties, like Kittitas and Clark, have self-sustaining programs.

The program, however, cannot do more than cover its costs and make money for the health district, Ness said.

Washington and federal law require all food establishments be inspected once every six months. It’s a difficult job in Grant County, where the cities are scattered across the county and travel time and distance contributes to the cost of food safety inspections, according to Health District Administrator Theresa Adkinson.

“We consolidate our visits,” she said, “because our cities are so spread out.”

In order to make sure the Health District gets all of the inspections done, the district also plans to hire an additional food inspector at a cost of around $118,000 per year — a cost the new fees will cover, Ness said.

“I want to feel safe when I go into an establishment to eat,” Taylor said. “If we’re going to have a food inspection program, let’s do it right.”

The new fees are expected to be presented to the Health District board of directors sometime before the end of the year.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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