County may take on food service inspections
Garfield County government may take over local food service and restaurant health safety inspections, using money from state permit fees to help offset the cost.
Even then, the county is looking at a gap of more than $85,000 annually that would have to be made up in order to support the program, according to Joshua Williams, environmental health manager for Garfield County.
Williams presented the initial proposal to county commissioners earlier this week, which ideally would involve three new full-time staff to conduct and administer inspections.
A May 5 work session with the commissioners is planned to further refine the details of the program, which would be phased in later this year.
Williams explained that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has been backing away from providing direct inspection services, preferring instead to distribute fee-based grants to counties and other local jurisdictions to run their own programs.
“The state has been actively working with counties to see about the possibility of developing these relationships,” Williams said. “Garfield County is one of the last counties that hasn’t taken that on.”
As it stands, the state has contracted with neighboring Mesa County to handle inspections of licensed food establishments, primarily restaurants, in the Rifle and Parachute/Battlement Mesa areas.
The state, meanwhile, continues to handle inspections for establishments in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and New Castle.
To start, Williams said Garfield County Public Health would train personnel later this year to begin inspecting nonlicensed facilities, such as child care centers and schools.
No permitting money is available from the state for schools and nonprofit organizations providing food services, because they are exempt from fees. However, some state grant money would be available to the county, he said.
There are now 72 such facilities located in the county, but inspections are often infrequent, sometimes taking place only once every three years, depending on the type of facility.
Williams estimates that to implement the program would cost about $178,761, including three full-time employees plus training, travel, equipment and supplies.
The state would provide $93,000 to help cover those expenses, leaving the county to make up the remaining $85,761, he said.
Some savings could be achieved by combining the administrative duties with other public health functions.
One way the county could cover some of the extra costs would be to implement temporary licensing for “tent-and-table” type food vendors that typically set up at festivals, farmers markets and other venues, and which aren’t already subject to licensing.
“This would increase the workload, but would also help to fill the funding gap,” Williams said.
At $255 for a yearly permit collected from an estimated 100 vendors would generate an additional $25,500. Vendors selling prepackaged foods would be exempt from fees under the cottage food act, Williams said.
County commissioners said they are willing to continue exploring a county-run inspections program.
“This doesn’t ever make money, but it is a service and a safety issue that we have to pay for one way or another,” commission Chairman John Martin said during the April 20 discussion.
“If we are going to do it ourselves, we need to have our own structure and not just accept the state’s,” he said.
Williams said that if he gets the go-ahead from the commissioners, he would like to begin hiring and training staff by mid-summer.
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A continued decline in natural gas industry activity in Garfield County resulted in fewer members and fewer complaints from residents over the past year for Community Counts Colorado.