By Terri Harber
A plan to raise fees paid by business owners for health inspections will return to Baker County commissioners for a public hearing on May 1.
No business owners attended Wednesday's commission meeting so the hearing has been rescheduled to allow for comments from business owners.
Malheur County's Environmental Health Office conducts these inspections for all of Baker County. It's seeking a 5-percent fee increase for inspections of restaurants and mobile food units.
Also sought is a $5 increase for swimming pool inspections.
The higher prices would become effective July 1.
"I don't believe we have enough restaurants to run this from our health department," said Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr.
Malheur County has conducted Baker County's health inspections since 1992. The last increases - 10 percent for all services - were instituted in 2008, said Craig Geddes, director of Malheur's program.
"It's not an exorbitant amount," he said. "You're getting a heckuva deal. There's no cost to Baker County itself."
Restaurant owners, most of whom are charged fees based on the number of seats in their establishments, are the primary focus.
Most of Baker City's restaurants have fewer than 50 seats. A restaurant with up to 15 seats would pay $425 and one with up to 50 would be charged $480 under the proposed pricing, Geddes said.
Limited service restaurants, mobile food units and bed-and-breakfasts also would bear these increases.
A portion of the extra money collected would cover cost hikes to the county from the state, Geddes said.
The rest of the new money would offset other expected increases in operating costs, such as for travel to and from points in Baker County.
Malheur County pays employee costs so the Baker activities aren't wholly funded, Geddes said.
During 2012, the office completed 286 inspections within Baker County.
Each eatery is subject to two unannounced inspections each year - more if there are violations found during the regular inspections.
Ed Hardt said that business owners might be apprehensive about speaking up in public. Hardt worked in the food industry years ago in another part of the state.
"We're not out to get 'em," Geddes explained. "We see things they might not have realized."
Visit www.malheurco.org/EH to learn more about the inspections and see how local restaurants have fared.
A business must earn a score of 70 percent or better on its regular semi-annual inspection to receive a placard that notes that it has "complied" with state rules.
The Baker County Assessor's Office is seeking a County Assessment Function Funding Assistance grant of almost $964,000.
Called CAFFA for short, it's an annual grant program to help finance assessment and taxation operations. Funding comes from document recording fees and a portion of the interest from delinquent property taxes, according to the state.
The state started providing these grants more than 20 years ago because the property tax system lacked local funding. Collecting tax money had been becoming increasingly difficult for counties because they couldn't afford to pay for the functions that accompany property tax collection.
The department must submit its request for the money by May 1.
In other business, the commissioners:
andbull; Entered into a contract with Wade Swiger for investigative services during the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1. He works for the District Attorney's office as well as the county and the child abuse center. The total amount of the contracts is $35,000.
andbull; Appointed Keith Long as a Justice of the Peace Pro-tem through Dec. 31. Long primarily conducts marriages.