Health check fee rise upsets

Some small businesses will struggle to pay rises of up to 82% in environmental health fees, the Waitaki District Council, which wants to increase them, has been told.

In its draft 10-year long-term plan (LTP), the council wants to decrease what ratepayers contribute to the fees, at present 57%, and increase the businesses' share from 43% to 70%.

Environmental health fees are paid to the council by businesses such as cafes, restaurants, hairdressers, takeaway food shops, supermarkets, dairies and camping grounds to ensure operations comply with legislation such as the Food Act, and minimise any risk to the community.

But some businesses, in submissions on the council's draft LTP being considered this week, have questioned what they will get for the increase and why the fees will be so much higher than those charged by other councils.

Weston hairdresser Donna Carter said she had ''a little salon at home'' that was open only 23 hours a week and her fee could rise from $222 to $400.

In Auckland, the fee was $209.

Cr Jim Hopkins questioned why Waitaki's proposed fees would be ''so far out of kilter'' with other councils and Cr June Slee said an 82% increase was ''massive in anyone's language''.

Customer services group manager Richard Mabon said costs of inspections would increase with changes to legislation, but the biggest rise in the fee was to recover more from the businesses.

The council wanted to ensure an equitable system was in place so both business owners and ratepayers were fairly charged.

Maria Barta, of Inch Valley, said businesses in any one class had to pay the same fee, regardless of their size.

The food industry was highly competitive and there was ''little wriggle room'' to raise prices to cover costs. In her business, an extra 1000 units would have to be sold to cover the proposed increase.

''This is more than our business could sustain,'' she said.

The North Otago branch of the Otago Chamber of Commerce objected to the proposed rise and wanted the present ratepayer/business split retained.

It suggested a three-year transition would be an advantage if fees were to rise.

Oamaru Harbour business owners Scott and Dee-Ann Fitzgerald warned the council needed to consider the increases very carefully or ''they may just be the final nail in the coffin for many small operators''.

They also believed it would have a negative effect on encouraging new businesses.

Stan MacKay, of Maggie Organic Larder, would find it difficult to pass on the fee increase to customers, which would place its existence in doubt.

david.bruce@odt.co.nz

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