The Porter County Commissioners are in the midst of some major restructuring
of the fees assessed to those in the food service industry.
The Commissioners voted 3-0 last week on a first reading for the new fees
that will be administered by the County Health Department.
The fees have not been updated in nearly a decade and a half, said County
Health Board Attorney David Hollenbeck who approached the Commissioners
about making the updates.
“I’m somewhat embarrassed to say we haven’t done this since 1999, and there
have been some significant changes in different areas that are forcing us to
proceed,” Hollenbeck said.
The new fee structure will simplify the older system, Hollenbeck said, by
issuing permits and fees based on square footage instead of by restaurant or
by grocery store where in some cases those distinctions were not always
clear. It will also help the health department become financially
self-sufficient in conducting inspections.
The same is being done in adjacent counties, Hollenbeck said.
The structure will divided into three categories -- businesses less than
3,000 sq. ft. who would be charged $200 for annual inspection; business
between 3,000 and 10,000 sq. ft. who would be charged $350 per annual
inspection; and businesses more than 10,000 who would be charged $500 per
Under the older system, full-service restaurants have been charged $220 for
a permit while grocery stores have been charged $440.
Hollenbeck said the new ordinance recognizes all affiliated businesses as
“retail food establishments” instead of defining a grocery store and a
Under the County’s home rule authority, the Health Department can issue
temporary permits on a daily basis for events like the county fair or a
There will also be a partial food service establishment permit for seasonal
restaurants such as The Port in Chesterton and a limited retail food
establishment permit to inspect establishments that don’t have full service
kitchens but sell prepackaged foods.
Since 1999, the food industry in Porter County has burgeoned from having 350
businesses to more than 750 presently, Hollenbeck said. It costs the County
Health Department $125,000 annually to inspect the restaurants and
businesses in 1999; today it costs about $185,000, he said.
“There is a shortfall there and our proposed ordinance will close that
shortfall,” said Hollenbeck. “We were told by the Commissioners and the
County Council this is the kind of program that should be self-sufficient,
that it should generate enough revenue from the fees and pay for itself.”
Health Department Administrator Keith Letta said there are three full-time
and one part-time inspector on staff currently, while in 1999 there were two
full-time, meaning the work has doubled while the staffing hasn’t.
The fees collected in the past related to the number of employees a business
has. Hollenbeck said that it has become increasing difficult to apply an
accurate employee number as the industry continues to change and more
establishments are hiring more part-time workers.
The health department has experienced some difficulty in collecting fees,
Hollenbeck said, and one thing included in the new proposal is to “give it a
little more meat” by delegating the health officer to formulate a delinquent
payment system for establishments late on their payments.
Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, asked how the health board decided on
the parameters of the square footage. Adams had co-owned Strongbow Inn
Bakery and Restaurant, which is one of the businesses that have more than
10,000 sq. ft.
Inspectors Juanita Goepcheus and Sheila Paul said they discovered that most
of the restaurants fit the 3,000 sq. ft. category while there are some that
did fall into the 3,000 to 10,000 sq. ft. range. Only rarely did restaurants
exceed 10,000 sq. ft. limit and those would be the ones with large banquet
halls such as Strongbow’s.
Large grocery stores and supermarkets also fell into the latter category,
Hollenbeck said that grocery stores which had restaurants inside of them
typically had to pay the health department for two permits, but the new
ordinance will allow them to combine them into one, which is also reflected
in the state’s regulations.
“We did find the need to simplify the whole thing because it was very
complicated,” added Letta.
Hollenbeck said the Commissioners can also decide to make changes if they
wish. A final reading of the ordinance will be given when the Commissioners
meet on Oct. 15.
“Our goal is to bring this in compliance with the state’s regulations,
simplify the process, and to realign ourselves as a self-sufficient,
self-supporting program so tax dollars aren’t being used to subsidize the
inspections,” Hollenbeck said.