License fee increases draw protests among Carroll food service owners

December 15, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Three Westminster food service owners hope to organize a meeting with the Carroll County Commissioners to protest the way the commissioners quietly doubled the county's annual restaurant license fees for 1993.

The three owners are soliciting interest from other owners of food shops and restaurants for the proposed meeting.

"I just think the people affected by these changes should be made aware before the changes are made," said Robert Lowry, owner of Cockey's Tavern. He said he does not oppose the fee increase if county officials would justify it.

Kay D'Eugenio, co-owner with her husband of the La Strada Italian grocery and deli, said her concerns are "the amount of the increase and us not being able to defend ourselves before" it was adopted.

The commissioners voted at an unscheduled, unannounced meeting Nov. 24 to double annual license fees for restaurants and other food sales establishments next year.

Many restaurateurs and food store owners learned of the fee increase when they received annual license renewal letters from the county Health Department. The commissioners' action came close to the deadline for health officials to give food license holders the required 30-day notice of the fee change. License renewals are due Jan. 1.

The increased fees are intended to make up for state budget cuts that would have forced the Carroll Health Department to reduce food establishment inspections.

The commissioners did not return telephone calls yesterday to comment on whether they would meet with the group.

Fees for restaurants in the high priority category, those that prepare food on the premises, will increase from $75 to $150; moderate priority, such as convenience stores where the food prepared does not have high bacterial content, will increase from $50 to $115; and low priority licenses, for stores that sell pre-packaged foods, will increase from $25 to $60.

Mrs. D'Eugenio said she has seen her annual license fees rise from $25 to $150 in 6 1/2 years.

For 1993, La Strada was reclassified from moderate to high priority, creating a sharper increase, she said.

The Italian grocery and deli owner said she would have to sell 38 1/2 hoagies or 214 cups of coffee or 66 1/2 servings of soup to make enough money to pay the $150 for the license fee.

Charles L. Zeleski, the county's director of environmental health, said some food sales establishments were moved to higher categories and some were downgraded for 1993.

He said those changes were based on menu additions -- for example, an establishment adding rare roast beef -- and on local sanitarians becoming more familiar with revised state standards on how to categorize the establishments.

Terry and Sandy Albright, owners of the local Fox's Pizza Den franchise, also are helping to organize the meeting, Mrs. D'Eugenio said.

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