LOCKPORT -- The Niagara County Board of Health Thursday created a new type of permit for not-for-profit organizations that hold events where food is sold.
The unanimous vote came over the objections of a group of fund-raisers who said they didn't know permits were needed and thought they should receive exemptions.
The board created a "multiple temporary permit," good for an unlimited number of events in any 180-day period.
It costs $150 and replaces the old seasonal permit, which cost $140 and expired on Dec. 31 of the year in which it was obtained, no matter when the purchase was made.
Board member Barbara Brewer said the county discovered that the state sanitary code did not allow for seasonal permits.
She suggested that it would be more economical for groups holding only a few events to buy a $50 temporary food service permit for each one.
Robert MacFarlane of Newfane, president of Rainbow for Help, a not-for-profit organization that holds benefits for residents with catastrophic medical bills, said the county had done a poor job of letting the need for permits be known. He said he knew of several events that had gone on without one. "Before last year, we never knew we needed a permit," he said.
Brewer said the Health Department was relying on newspaper articles announcing upcoming benefits to try to keep track of them.
MacFarlane said his group is an incorporated tax-exempt organization. "I don't see why there can't be an exemption," he said. "It seems whether it's Niagara County or New York State or the United States of America, it's the people who need it the most who get the least. It makes me sick to my stomach."
Brewer said the state code already exempts churches and fraternal organizations, which include the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, from food service permit fees. She suggested that other groups hold their events in churches or in fire halls, which should already have their own food service permits. Otherwise, the county would insist on collecting its fee.
"Maybe you can get somebody to donate the fee," Brewer suggested.
"Why doesn't the Health Department donate their time?" shot back David Daduano of Newfane, vice president of Rainbow for Help.
"Our charge is to protect the health of everyone in Niagara County," said Dr. Jerome Ulatowski II of Lewiston, the board president. He said the county would face liability if it let any such event slide past its scrutiny.
MacFarlane said, "If we have to pay, and somebody who's not as well-known doesn't, it's not a level playing field."
The board also voted to reclassify caterers as "high-risk" food vendors and set an annual permit fee of $300. For a restaurant already in that classification, an additional catering permit would cost $90.