In an effort to save the city's restaurant inspection program, a Baltimore city councilwoman last night proposed legislation that would raise restaurant licensing fees to pay for food inspections.
The legislation, which would go into effect on Dec. 1, would affect approximately 6,000 licensed food establishments -- from hot dog vendors to seafood restaurants to grocery stores. It would raise an estimated $1.2 million to pay for 19 food inspectors whose jobs otherwise would be eliminated because of budget cuts.
The measure was drafted by Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, after she and several other council members received dozens of calls from restaurant owners and patrons who feared an increase in health hazards if the city suspends restaurant inspections.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said two weeks ago that the city's restaurant inspection office -- which consists of 19 employees and costs an estimated $300,000 in city funds -- would have to be closed because of a $26 million cut in state aid to the city.
"We're talking about saving a service that has been wiped off the books," said City Council President Mary Pat Clarke. "The state has gotten out of the business of restaurant inspections."
Under the bill, the fees for restaurants and food wholesalers would range from $150 to $350 depending on the "risk" their food service poses to the community. Ms. Clarke said that risk could ** be determined by factors including the type of food served, the ** number of customers, the way food is prepared or stored, or a combination of all these. However, she said specific risk factors would be determined at a public hearing on the bill that is scheduled for Nov. 14.
Licensing for vending machines and temporary food establishments would be $8 and $50 respectively.
Current licensing fees range from $30 for restaurants of less than 1,500 square feet to $270 for wholesale food stores that are larger than $30,000 square feet.
Council members said there has not been an increase in licensing fees since 1980 because unitil now, the state paid the ++ balance of the cost needed to fundrestaurant inspections.
"It wasn't in the city's interest to increase the fees for years and yearsbecause then the state would send less money."Mrs.Clarke said.