Stonington outlines proposed restaurant health fee increases

Stonington - When residents and business owners successfully opposed a town proposal to join the Ledge Light Health District last winter, town officials warned them that keeping the town's own health department would result in higher permit fees to fund the increased work that has to be done.

The Board of Selectmen has now compiled a proposed fee schedule that shows the increases and plans to present it at a public hearing slated for 6 p.m. Jan. 23 at Stonington High School. Residents would at a later time vote whether to approve the revised fee schedule.

It would be the first fee increase in a decade. The current annual fee system for restaurants is based on the class of the restaurant as well as the number of seats it has. The new simplified fee structure has eliminated the seating criteria. How the food is prepared and packaged determines a restaurant's class.

The proposed fees, while less than what Ledge Light charges, are all more expensive than the current ones with one exception: a Class III restaurant with 101 or more seats that now pays $250 would pay $200 under the proposed system.

A Class I restaurant with up to 25 seats now pays $25 a year but would pay $100 under the proposed schedule. A Class II restaurant with 26 or more seats that now pays $75 would pay $135.

Salons, day care centers and public pools, which currently do not pay fees, would pay $75.

Fees for caterers and vendors would remain at $100 for residents and $250 for nonresidents. Temporary licenses would remain at $50, and there would still be no charge for nonprofit organizations that stage no more than two events per year.

First Selectman Ed Haberek said the increased fees are needed to pay for the additional hours the town sanitarian needs to conduct the inspections.

"These fees will allow us to do that," he said.

Last March, a large group of local business owners and organizations told town and borough officials that they were worried about an increase in fees if the two municipalities decided to join Ledge Light.

Ledge Light, which had approached the town about joining, would have provided a wide variety of services that the town does not have, along with immediate access to a staff of 24 health professionals. Although selectmen rejected the idea of joining Ledge Light, they kept the door open to joining in the future.

The town currently spends $100,000 a year to employ a full-time sanitarian, whose duties include inspecting 165 restaurants, hotels and other businesses. That cost also includes the $20,000 annual stipend paid to Dr. Michael Blefeld to serve as the town's health director.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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