When inspection fees are not increased on a regular basis to keep up with increasing costs, restaurants often don’t get inspected as well or as often. Colorado is one state trying to catch up, but support from the industry is not coming without a price. A 14-page bill sent to the House Business and Labor Committee on March 24 would increase fees used to hire restaurant inspectors. FUnacceptable_406x250It would raise the money needed by county and district health departments to catch up on inspections, apparently with the support of the powerful Colorado Restaurant Association, But to get the money from higher fees, House Bill 16-1401 has some goodies for the restaurant industry as well. Under the new law, local governments would be prevented from using “a letter, number, or symbol grading system, or similar oversimplified method of quantifying results.” Instead, local governments would be legally compelled to use a “uniform system” of “communication to the public.” Weld County, the state’s fastest growing area, last year went to a hybrid system of using traditional A to F letter grades along side a series of descriptions such as “excellent” and”unacceptable.” The bill also reduces the time for which a restaurant’s license can be suspended to one month, from the current six months. Annual license and inspection fees are increased under the bill, which would be the first bump in seven years. The funds cannot be spent on anything other than retail food health-related activities. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is empowered to audit local inspection agencies for compliance with national retail food regulatory program standards. It grants local inspection agencies the power to issue cease and desist orders if a licensee remains in noncompliance with a civil penalty. Several fee schedules are included in the bill. For example, a restaurant with a seating capacity of 101 to 200 would see annual fees increase to $430 a year, from the current $285. A outlet selling on pre-packaged foods and beverages would pay $195 per year if it has less than 15,001 square feet, and $353 if it has 15,001 square feet or more. The number of categories is reduced to two, from the current seven. Also like other states, the Colorado General Assembly is not far from its election year adjournment. It is supposed to adjourn sine die on May 11, meaning the restaurant fee bill does not have long to make it through the legislative process. Larimer County, another fast-growing county in Northern Colorado, is looking for relief the bill’s passage could provide. County environmental health specialist Jim Devore says some some establishments there are going two years between inspections. At their current level, the state-set fees cover only about 40 percent of Larimer County’s program costs. The county has 5.7 full time employees to conduct inspections of 1,880 food establishments. That’s only one more employee than it had in 1987 when the county had just 828 restaurants. Larimer County commissioners have made increasing the fees one of their lobbying priorities. Meanwhile the Colorado Restaurant Associated has highlighted its opposition to scoring and letter grades on its website. “A health inspection is a one-hour slice of time meant to help restaurant operators learn from the health department where they may be able to make improvements to their practices. Applying a ‘score’ or a ‘grade’ to this inspection does nothing to improve regulatory compliance by the establishment and can be dangerously misleading to the public,” the restaurant group’s website says.