BISBEE — Moving forward on increasing environmental health fees to more accurately reflect actual costs to Cochise County, the Board of Supervisors directed the health department staff to move ahead with the proposed first-year increases.
Tuesday, Cochise Health and Social Services Director Alicia Thompson reminded Supervisors Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby of the direction given in a June 22 work session to focus on a one-year schedule and find out if American Recovery Act Plan could help businesses with the increased fees.
The fee schedules have been unchanged since 2014 and the actual cost over the past seven years of providing inspections has not been taken into account. The new fees will also help fund two more staff positions to keep up with the ever-growing demand for inspections and the accompanying paperwork, said Thompson.
She and Natalie Johnson, CCHS environmental health director, presented the new fee schedule, which covers lodging, school campuses, food handling, septic systems and much more.
For instance, it costs $878.50 for one inspection of a large high-risk food establishment which can take hours, but the county currently charges just $300. By raising the fee to $420, more of the cost will be shifted to businesses and off county taxpayers.
A mobile food unit with a low risk will pay an additional $30 under the new schedule as the fee rises from $100 to $130.
Johnson said the various categories of health inspections are based on risk assessments set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, on the amount of risk to the public and by size of the business.
The plan is to increase fees incrementally over five years. Even so, the county will not be recovering actual costs for the inspections until the fifth year increases go into effect.
Inspections for the 2021-22 fiscal year will be set at the new rates for all food service enterprises, but the Supervisors hoped to relieve some of that cost by using ARAP funds the county received to reduce the financial impact on businesses with 100 employees or less. The businesses will be required to fill out forms for the county to ensure the request fits the guidelines, said Thompson.
English said, “This will help for right now, but it’s not going to serve our long-term problems. Fees will have to go up.”
Judd said, “These larger businesses need to pay more.”
Each of the county’s invoices will include an “attestation” waiver for small business to fill out which will note the size and nonprofit status. It also lists four questions concerning adaptations of businesses such as barriers installed or other efforts to support social distancing efforts, enhanced deep cleaning and COVID–19 testing for employees. The waiver will be good for one year beginning Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2022.
Johnson requested the county be permitted to offer the required eight hours of training followed by testing for food certifications locally in the county. Every establishment has to have a certified food handler. Certification through the county costs $100 and food handlers training and tests are $25 under the new schedule. This cost could also be offset by ARAP funds.
Before the new fee schedule can be enacted, the Supervisors need approve it and the county is legally required to post a 60-day public notice, said Thompson.
The new fees for 2022 can be viewed at: https://destinyhosted.com/cochidocs/2021/WKS/20211019_2267/6115_Slidedeckfor_EH-Fees_WorkSession_2021.10.19.pdf.