County health looking at fee hike for businesses

In an effort to update fees levied by Washoe County’s Environmental Health Services, many business owners are reeling from the proposal to increase fees by 100 to 200-plus percent.

The fees cover a range of services requiring health department inspections including food service, swimming pools, special event food service, sewage disposal, new construction, sewer hookups, hotels, and mobile home parks.

“We haven’t increased fees in years,” said Erin Dixon, fiscal compliance officer with Washoe County Health district. “The board decided not to increase fees during the recession.”

In 2013, the county contracted for a fundamental review of all aspects of the health department’s operations. The report from the Public Health Foundation out of Washington, D.C., was released in 2014. Among its recommendation was to update fee schedules and billing processes for environmental health services.

“The fee schedule should reflect the full cost of service provision, including a proportional share of infrastructure support,” said the report, which is available on the county’s website.

With cost recovery at the forefront, the department looked closely at costs, not just staff time involved, but also gas, vehicle maintenance, training, pens and paper, “all the costs to do our jobs,” Dixon said.

“It switched our way of thinking.”

The health department presented the list of proposed fees and explanations to its board of directors in July. A number of public workshops have been held to discuss the fees. Nov. 19, a business impact hearing was held and Dec. 17, the board is expected to vote on the proposed fees.

The health department mailed post cards about the changes and workshops to 5,100 businesses in addition to advertisements and announcements.

“We’re really trying to get as much feedback as we possibly can,” Dixon said.

Justified or not, the sudden fee increases would make doing business difficult if not impossible for many.

“Most of us in food and beverage businesses would have to reevaluate which special events we would attend and how many booths we would have,” said Cheryl Huett, owner of Goodi’s Fresh Squeezed Lemonade, which has a prominent presence at special events in the region.

She said the fees that would impact her business range from increases of 151 to 297 percent.

“If we cannot do as many events, we will not be hiring as many people,” Huett said in a business impact statement. “Almost immediately the consumer will have to pay more for most anything they purchase within the industry. We cannot afford to absorb these fees.”

She added that it would also impact homeowners and construction workers, “anyone who’s going to remodel.”

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