Restaurant fee doubled in unannounced move

December 02, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

The Carroll County commissioners doubled restaurant and other food service license fees for 1993 in an unscheduled, unannounced decision last week.

The commissioners' action did not appear on their agenda for the week, and county clerk Shawn Reese reported that no record of the decision existed in the commissioners' minutes.

But Steven D. Powell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, confirmed that the commissioners had unanimously approved the increase at what he said was a public session at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 24.

The authorization came on deadline, said Larry L. Leitch, deputy county health officer. The county Health Department is required to give restaurants 30 days' notice of fee changes before the annual Jan. 1 license renewal date, Mr. Leitch said.

Fees for restaurants in the high-priority category, those that prepare food on the premises, will go from $75 to $150; moderate-priority food services, such as convenience stores where the food prepared does not have high potential for bacterial growth, will go from $50 to $115; low-priority establishments, generally stores that sell prepackaged foods, from $25 to $60.

The new fees will allow the department to continue meeting the state-mandated inspection schedule, said Charles L. Zeleski, director of environmental health. The schedule calls for a minimum of three annual inspections and follow-ups for high-priority restaurants, two annual inspections and follow-ups for moderate priority, and one inspection every two years for low-priority establishments.

The fee increase surprised several local restaurateurs. Although Carroll County does not have a restaurant association, a spokesman for the Maryland Restaurant Association said he had heard nothing about it from Carroll members.

Robert Lowry, owner of Cockey's Tavern in Westminster, said he knew nothing of the change until his license renewal application arrived in the mail yesterday.

"It's not devastating, but you just feel like you're being dollared to death," Mr. Lowry said. But he said he agreed that keeping up the inspection schedule is important, something health officials said they could not do without fee increases to make up for state budget cuts.

Budget Director Powell said the decision did not appear in the minutes because he had failed to notify the clerk of the action. He said the session where the action was taken did appear on the agenda, although the agenda copy provided to The Sun did not include it.

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