In St. Paul, schools will pay about four times as much as they’re accustomed to for food-service health permits. Food trucks will pay more than twice as much as they do now. Meanwhile, hotels, free-standing fast-food eateries and coffee shops will get a break.
Those are among changes taking place as a result of the Minnesota Department of Health’s and Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s joint decision to take over inspections of city businesses, pools and restaurants. The city of St. Paul had handled those inspections for decades and is fighting the state takeover, which began July 9.
Cities and counties charge the businesses fees for health permits, and those amounts vary widely from municipality to municipality and business to business. “The differences are fairly substantive,” said Dan McElroy, executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort and Campground Associations.
Erica Strait, owner of the Foxy Falafel restaurant on Raymond Avenue, said she’s hopeful the new fee structure will help her save a few bucks, and she plans to reach out to the Department of Health for a better understanding of the numbers.
The city charges full-service restaurants that operate a bar, catering and a food truck $1,124. The state charges $1,005.
“I pay so much in licensing and fees that it is overwhelming at times,” said Strait, who serves beer and wine and also caters special events in other cities. As a result, she pays for at least six different licenses in St. Paul alone.
“It gets to be a lot,” Strait said.
McElroy has pushed for fees to be re-evaluated statewide for greater uniformity. He notes costs will vary by geographic areas based on several factors, such as the number of inspectors who need foreign-language training, distances between establishments in a rural county and the complexity of a business.
His association has not taken a stand on the Department of Health and Department of Agriculture’s joint decision to assume responsibility for inspections in St. Paul, but McElroy expresses concern about instances in which fees don’t cover the costs they’re designed to.
The city’s Department of Safety and Inspections fee schedule has not been able to cover the budget for its 15-member inspections team. Those fees bring in about $1 million annually, leaving taxpayers on the hook for an additional $350,000, which is taken from the city’s general fund.
A comparison of Department of Health and St. Paul fees shows that as the state assumes control over inspections, a typical full-service restaurant with a bar will pay nearly $200 more. However, a restaurant will pay $120 less if the business has an outdoor patio bar, food truck, catering and other offerings.
Meanwhile, an apartment building with an outdoor pool will receive a $40 break or about 5 percent off its typical bill.
Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172. Follow him at twitter.com/FrederickMelo.
STATE VS. CITY FEES
The Minnesota Department of Health took over restaurant inspections in St. Paul last week. The state’s permit fees differ — in some cases dramatically — from the city’s.
St. Paul: $580
School food service
St. Paul: $217
St. Paul: $244
Full-service restaurant with more than 175 seats, with bar, catering, delivery vehicle and outdoor patio