County forms temporary event committee

 

It has been a year since the Environmental Health Division of Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency surveyed temporary event organizers and vendors about permitting fees and inspection experiences.

The community meetings were held in each Supervisorial District following outrage from mobile businesses, non-profit groups and chambers of commerce regarding a proposed fee structure that would have tripled the cost for community event organizers and vendors. The process shed light on the need for better communication and outreach between Environmental Health (EH) and those involved with local events and fund-raisers where food is sold.

And it appears County officials were listening.

Last week, EH announced it is forming a stakeholder Community Temporary Event Committee in order to continue improving communication and outreach to community and business stakeholders and to help develop strategies to further meet their needs.

This committee will provide a collaborative forum for stakeholders and the Environmental Health Division to discuss policies and regulations regarding temporary events. The committee’s work may include making recommendations to Environmental Health regarding existing or proposed policies and procedures, assisting in identifying strengths and gaps, goal setting, developing educational and training materials, and helping develop strategies to meet stakeholder’s needs.

“Environmental Health looks forward to continuing a collaborative relationship with vendors and business owners through this unique effort,” says Jason T. Britt, Director of Public Health.

The criteria for committee membership include:

• Members must possess an active health permit or have had a temporary event permit in the last 180 days

• Members must not have a delinquent balance with the Environmental Health Division

• Members must be a member of the designated vendor type such as a Vendor, Caterer, Nonprofit Organization, or Chambers of Commerce

If you are interested in serving as a member of the committee, please contact the Environmental Health Division by calling (559) 624-7400 or e-mailing fee@tularehhsa.org for an application. Applications must be returned to the Environmental Health Division by July 31, 2014.

In January 2013, EH enacted huge changes to the permitting process which resulted in a steep increase in fees for vendors. The fee switched from an annual fee of $326 to a fee of $52 per location for one-day or weekend events in addition to an annual fee of $326 for each weekly farmers market and inspection fees, which doubled from $65 to $115. The event nearly tripled costs for vendors such as Exeter Chamber member All-Fired Up Pizza of Woodlake. Following outrage at an April 30 Board of Supervisors meeting, Environmental Health proposed new fees at the May 21 meeting. The new fee structure, which was set to take effect on July 1, set the cost of an annual permit for each weekly farmers market to $174 and a permit for a one- to two-day festival was $58 per event.

The Supervisors ultimately voted to revert health permit fees to a pre-2013 fee schedule, have staff look into refunds for those who have been overcharged under the current fees and to draft a fee structure that is reasonable and is only used to recover costs.

On Aug. 27, 2013, EH announced it would delay any increase in temporary event fees for at least a year. Next month will mark a year since the EH recommended to delay any fee increases, but the County department has not announced any plans for increasing fees. During stake holder meetings last summer, local businesses and organizations said they opposed multiple fees because they are confusing and have an overall negative impact on the bottom line for all types of temporary food vendors. Those involved in the meeting asked for a clear explanation of the reasoning behind a fee schedule, why fees are different for some types of vendors than others, and the means used for calculating fees to “help mitigate the overall impression of inequality, unfairness,” and the introduction of new or higher fees viewed as “money-grabbing” effort.

Stakeholders said Tulare County’s fees seemed excessive compared to other counties (i.e., Kings).

Caterers and restaurants said they are already required to hold permits and are trained in food handling and should not have to pay additional fees for outside events. Vendors suggested a one-time fee that could be charged for adding mobile/temporary facility to already permitted businesses. Vendors also suggested those who apply for a permit late in the year/season should not have to pay full season fee; institute prorating system and/or a sliding scale.

Event organizers said charging fees to nonprofit organizations cuts severely into proceeds for charity work, demoralizes volunteers, and undermines their ability to serve the community. They argued higher fees may cause some vendors to “go underground” and undermine food safety in the long run. They also called the requirement that organizers act as a “collection agency” for vendor fees “burdensome.”

For more information please call the Environmental Health Division at 559-624-7400 or visit www.tchhsa.org.

 

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