After hearing complaints from restaurateurs and farmers, the county Board of Health on Thursday scaled back its plans for major fee increases for inspections.
The new fees will be voted upon at the board's Oct. 25 meeting. They still show increases, but not as large as those proposed last month.
For example, the fee for an annual Health Department inspection of a full-service restaurant, currently $150, would be raised to $225 under the revised plan. The prior version would have set the fee at $420.
The board's Legislative Committee scaled back the fee increases after a flurry of negative comments.
Board President Steven C. Lewis said, "We've heard loud and clear from the public that our first version needed some revision."
Letters were received from the New York State Restaurant Association as well as individual restaurateurs, such as Mark Turgeon of Lewiston and Robert Cammarata of Lockport.
County Legislator Gerald R. DeFlippo, who runs a restaurant and serves on the Board of Health, said he had received phone calls from other Lockport restaurateurs protesting the fees.
Another source of complaint came from fruit farmers who objected to higher fees for inspecting migrant labor camps.
James Bittner, owner of Somerset's Singer Farms, attended Thursday's meeting on behalf of the Niagara County Farm Bureau to protest the increases.
"Mine was going to go from $100 to $545 for a place that's occupied two months a year," Bittner said.
Under the new version, the fee for inspecting a migrant camp of 21 or more occupants would be $150. Bittner called that "reasonable."
Board member Elizabeth DiChiara, chairwoman of the Legislative Committee, said the goal of the revised fees was to cover half the cost of providing the service if possible, while avoiding any increase of more than 50 percent in the existing fee.
Board member John Gotowko said: "We've decided we're going to raise (fees) in increments until we recover 100 percent of our costs. These fees haven't been increased in a long time."
The Health Department estimates its costs for conducting an inspection at $650 for a full-service restaurant and $850 for a large migrant labor camp.
The fee increases also affect small restaurants, food vending machines, hotels, commercial campgrounds, public swimming pools and private water and sewer systems.
On another topic, the board held a closed-door session but did not settle on a new public health director.
There are four finalists for the job, and Lewis said none was eliminated from consideration Thursday.
Board member Jean Wactawski-Wende, who headed the search committee, said the job has not been offered to anyone yet.
She said there might be a special meeting next month to choose the new director, but Lewis said he didn't expect a decision before the regularly scheduled Oct. 25 meeting.
The County Legislature has authorized the board to offer a salary of as much as $69,246.
The position would be offered for a three-year term. Assistant County Attorney J. Michael Fitzgerald told the board its choice would be to keep the job for the full three years, even if the new county charter is approved.
That charter, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2003, empowers the county executive to appoint the public health director, taking that power away from the Board of Health.
The current director, Shirley A. Sampson, will retire Nov. 9.
In another personnel matter, senior audiologist Stacy Lampman was chosen as temporary director of the Speech, Hearing and Language Center for the rest of the year.
She replaces John J.M. Reardon, who is leaving today after more than 20 years with the county to become deputy director of the United Cerebral Palsy Association in Niagara County.