The first signs are coming in that states are going to beef up their food-safety regulatory structures in light of better economic times. Michigan, for one, is after its first fee increase in 15 years for its inspection and licensing program, which oversees an estimated 18,000 retail food, processing and warehouse facilities. And the Arlington, VA-based Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) says legislatures in multiple states are considering legislation that would make it easier to reform or restructure health boards, come up with flexible funding, and update state public health acts. At the state level for a string of years, user-fee and taxpayer-supported food safety programs have largely experienced stagnant or declining budget support. State funds were eroding and recessions are not good times to ask for fee increases. But state fiscal conditions have now improved and the National Association of State Budget Officers expects “moderately” improved conditions for spending to continue. That has agencies involved in food safety, such as the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), going for increases in those long-frozen user fees. MDARD investigates when foodborne illnesses are occurring and it also responds during outbreaks. The agency has already gained legislative support and $1.8 million in seed money for a plan to add 20 employees in fiscal year 2015. However, the department needs another $2.5 million, which would come from fees. Inspection fees would rise from 9 to 180 percent over three years. A retail food establishment currently pays a license fee of $67. The plan is to increase that fee in stages over three years until it reaches $180 per year. The plan, according to MDARD, will both reduce foodborne illnesses in Michigan and also provide more assistance for the businesses it regulates. Even with the fee increases, the regulated businesses will only be paying 37 percent of the program’s cost, up from 27 percent. A department spokesperson says that businesses are being asked to pay their fair share in the interest of Michigan food safety. Michigan Agri-Business Association President Jim Byrum says his organization has always supported MDARD and is looking forward to the fee discussions. The number of facilities per inspector in Michigan has reached 409, which is well above the one inspector per 280 to 320 facilities recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.(FDA).