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County hesitant to raise environmental health fees

Moultrie Observer - 4/9/2024

Apr. 8—MOULTRIE — The County Commission tabled voting on a hike in environmental health services fees proposed by the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Commissioners voiced their concerns on how it would affect small businesses and Colquitt County residents

Georgia law requires that the county commission approve and adopt increases in these fees before they can go in to affect.

Lawanda Lovett, environmental health county manager with the Georgia Department of Public Health, presented the new schedule of fees, compared with the current fees, to the commissioners at their work session.

"The cost of providing the environmental health services has risen substantially over the last few years. The last review and a fee adjustment of Colquitt County environmental health fees occurred in December 2015," she said.

She said that a district environmental health fee committee had researched and determined that many of the fees were undervalued when considering the time and effort involved in providing essential environmental health services, declaring the increase fair and necessary.

She, then, went on to point out specific fees that would be increased and the reasoning behind the increase. Some of these included on-site sewage permitting fees for new septic systems and commercial septic systems, and general sanitation inspections for food service, tourist accommodations and public swimming pools.

"The fee increases help with off-setting time and cost associated with routine inspections, required follow-up, planned reviews, training and other similar items," she explained.

She said the new schedule of fees would be presented for approval in all 14 counties in the Georgia Department of Public Health District.

"So, at this time, the Department of Public Health County Board of Health would like a vote on if we can get this approved," Lovett said.

Commissioner Barbara Jelks noted that there seemed to be a larger increase in the food truck fees.

Lovett said that food trucks were becoming very, very popular and the increase was due to the fact that there was more involved in the inspection process. She said that they had to have a base of operation and a mobile unit so, essentially, they were doing two inspections and planned reviews for the one entity.

Commissioner Mike Boyd asked why the fee for a commercial septic tank would be more than double what it was before.

Lovett said that she didn't have the answer for that but she could find out and let the commission know. However, she said, as she understood, there was a lot more entailed in the engineering site plans that caused the department to have to make several trips out to the location and engage with the engineer to go over the plans and make changes, if necessary.

Commissioner Paul Nagy said that some of the increases in the food service fees were kind of steep and asked if she could give a reason for that.

Lovett said, keep in mind that these fees haven't been updated since 2015 and that, along with everything else, prices were increasing. She said she could get a specific answer for him on the way the amount of the fee increase was determined.

County Administrator Chas Cannon asked if the fees went back to the Department of Public Health to support their operations.

She answered that, "yes," the money was used for operations and salaries. She also said that Colquitt County has surpassed Thomas County in the revenue that is brought in by the department.

"Colquitt is growing so much," she added.

Cannon asked if any of the other counties had approved the numbers yet and Lovett affirmed that, at this point, four of them out of the 14 had approved the fee schedule.

Commissioner Chair Denver Braswell asked if there was any particular reason that she needed a vote right then and she told him that, if they needed to discuss it and have her get back to them with more information, it would be fine.

He also asked how much revenue the department brings in on average and she responded that they brought in $66,728 in fees last year and, right now, for the first quarter of this year, they had already brought in approximately $33,500. She said it was over what they usually see because the applications in Colquitt County have picked up tremendously and they've been super busy.

"I wouldn't mind getting some feedback from the people in the businesses," said Braswell. "I wouldn't mind running it by some people that it would affect a lot and kind of see what they think."

Jelks asked if they did not pass it and the other counties passed it, would it be majority rules.

"I can get you an answer for that. That would be a question for my district supervisor," responded Lovett.

Cannon asked if other counties help fund the Department of Health like the quarter million dollars a year that Colquitt County gives them every year and Lovett responded that they did.

Cannon said that another option, instead of increasing the fees, would be that the County could allocate more money to the Department of Health.

Nagy asked if they took that option, what kind of number was he thinking and Cannon responded that they could base it on the percentage of increase in the fees and tack it onto the amount that they were already paying the department.

"Personally, I'd like to think about it because I'd like to try and help our small businesses, if we can," said Nagy.

Cannon told Lovett to give them until the middle of the month to make their decision and, if the commissioners had any questions that they wanted answered, he would email them to her.


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