Health Department Late Fees Debated

SNOW HILL- The decision to change late fees on pool and food service applications has been delayed by one month at the request of the Worcester County Health Department (WCHD).

In that time, the WCHD will conduct a cost analysis survey which could lead to the reduction of late fees with a possible increase to base application fees.

“I really don’t know what the magic number is,” said Health Officer Debbie Goeller at a County Commissioner meeting Tuesday.

Goeller explained that the WCHD conducts a large number of pool and food service inspections every year. Those inspections are necessary to maintain the permits that those facilities use to operate their pools or serve food. Thirty days before a permit expires, owners are contacted and informed about the need to submit a new application. If late, the application can accrue heavy fees, $50 a day every day past the deadline, with a $500 maximum fee. Goeller explained that the serious numbers are needed to discourage casual lateness.

“We have very little to no margin to deal with late applications,” she said.

Goeller added that the number of facilities that need to be inspected in the county versus the number of inspectors was one of the toughest ratios in the state, with about 105 pools per inspector and 172 food service licenses. She told the commissioners her office simply does not have the personal to deal with a large number of late applications and so the deadlines had to be strictly enforced.

The commissioners acknowledged the need, but still questioned the severity of the fees. Commission President Bud Church referenced a letter the commission had received from a local business owner, John Van Fossen, who had accidently run the full ten days late on his application. For his $300 business license, Fossen received an additional $500 late fee. He calculated the fine to be 167 percent of the actual permit cost, a percentage he thought was ridiculous and compared WCHD late fees to other organizations. Most of the comparison organizations Fossen used, including the town of Ocean City and Worcester County taxes, were all 10 percent or lower initial late fees, with small progressive fees after that.

“I think we went way overboard when actually looking at the percentage we are charging,” said Church.

Goeller admitted 167 percent seemed high, but reminded the commission that the current base permit fees, like the $300 one used as an example, are years behind what they should be.

“The current fees being charged, because they’ve been capped so long, do not reflect the actual cost,” she said.

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Shannon reminded the commission that, since setting up the late fee policy, there has been “a significant reduction of late applications since 2000.”

“I still think it is important to get attention with a noticeable fee,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.