By Adam Poulisse
Posted Jul. 29, 2016 at 10:00 AM
Updated Jul 29, 2016 at 12:50 PM
BELVIDERE — Boone County Health Department is pushing for a change to county code that will force nonprofit organizations to pay food service permit fees.
Organizations and some residents contend it would be unfair for nonprofits to shell out money for the permits amid a rocky state budget.
Establishments that serve food to the public — be it a chain restaurant like McDonald's, or a local nonprofit's monthly breakfast or weekend cookout — must first obtain a food service permit through the Health Department. However, the county code states nonprofits are exempt from paying permit fees. The fee reimburses the Health Department for time and resources spent issuing the permit, as well as education, tracking, evaluating and inspecting.
Annual permit fees cost $470, the most expensive of the food service permits; short-term permits and lower-risk entities cost less.
Last year, distributing permits to the nearly 30 nonprofits in Boone County would have generated $22,000 for the Health Department. That money had to be made up by the taxpayers, Administrator Cindy Frank said.
"It's going to kill us," she said. "Most not-for-profit events are on weekends, so I have to staff my people to meet that requirement and it takes them out of (weekday) hours."
Frank said the current code may result in some organizations not applying for the permit, which could mean improperly handling food.
"When they're told they don't have to pay for the permit, they don't come in to get the permit, so (we) don't know how they're serving (the food)," Frank added.
The Health Department went before the Health and Human Services Committee earlier this month to recommend the change to the county code. The committee said the Health Department needed to prove the current code is causing a financial hardship. There was no vote.
The Health Department will meet on Monday then return before the health committee on Thursday.
County Board and Health and Human Services Committee member Cathy Ward said she's opposed to nonprofits paying the permit fee.
"I know how hard our not-for-profits work to make every penny," she said.
There are more than 300 fees in the county code including liquor licenses and building permits, but the food permit fee is the only one nonprofits get exemption for.
"This is a bottomless hole," said Bill Hatfield, director of environmental health. "We want everyone who applies for ... a function that requires local government oversight and causes expenses to pay for those expenses."
VFW Post 1461 in Belvidere, 1310 W. Lincoln Ave., has been at odds with the Health Department regarding food service fees for years. The VFW hosts breakfast 10 months out of the year and sells soda and candy bars.
The Health Department charged the VFW $2,485 in permit fees since 2008, until the organization fought and won a refund earlier this year because of its nonprofit status.They don’t really understand what a nonprofit is,” said Greg Kelm, post commander. “They said we make money but the IRS letter says we are a nonprofit. If the IRS says we are a nonprofit, we are a nonprofit.”In neighboring Winnebago County, the Health Department charges all nonprofits for food permit fees, except food pantries, Lisa Sprecher, public facilities supervisor, said. Fees in Winnebago County range from $40 for a temporary permit, to $640 for a long-term permit for establishments that seat 200 or more.Nonprofits across the state faced a difficult time amid the budget impasse, forcing some to close down, or layoff workers and clients to keep services going. Charging the VFW and other Boone County nonprofits the permit fees would be bad timing, Kelm said.
"We are on a tight ship," he said. "If the whole county ran themselves like the VFW runs itself, they wouldn't have financial problems."