In an effort to save Baltimore's restaurant inspection service, the City Council is considering a bill that would raise annual inspection fees for food establishments to a maximum of $350.
The measure seeking the fee increases was introduced in the council yesterday. It would raise an estimated $1.2 million, enough to pay for 19 food inspectors and save the restaurant inspection service, which is slated to be wiped out in November because of cuts in state aid.
Council members said the fee increases would be the first in a decade.
The bill, which was drafted with the cooperation of the Schmoke administration, was co-sponsored by a host of council members led by Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, who was absent from last night's meeting because of the death of her father.
Under the measure, the maximum restaurant inspection fee would be increased to $350 from $270. The bill also would change the basis on which the fee is computed.
The fee is determined now by an eating establishment's floor space. Under the proposed measure, the fee would correlate with the degree of risk a food establishment would pose to the health of patrons.
"The bigger risk you are, the higher fee you will pay," said Council President Mary Pat Clarke.
For instance, any food establishment that allows more than four hours to pass between when food is prepared and served would be considered a high priority for inspection and would have to pay the maximum annual fee of $350.
Under the bill, moderate-priority establishments would pay $250 fees, and would be defined as food establishments that serve food within four hours of preparation; low-priority establishments would be stores that sell mainly dried goods, such as potato chips, considered not likely to cause food poisoning, and would pay an $150 annual fee.
Also, the measure states that any establishment traced to any food-borne illness would be considered a high inspection priority and charged the highest fee, said Charles A. Gilliam, director of the Bureau of Food and Institutional Facilities for the Baltimore Health Department.
Gilliam said that in all there are about 7,000 food permits issued each year in Baltimore, including 1,000 temporary permits.
Under the proposed measure, vending machines would be charged $8 a year for inspections; the cost of a permit for a temporary food service facility, such as the food stands at outdoor festivals, would be $50.
The bill also would establish a $20-a-day late fee for overdue permit fees and impose a $150 charge for new restaurants.