Tags: County Report
March 11, 2014 | 09:19 AMELKHORN — Tavern and restaurant owners have voiced concerns over the county’s proposal to take over restaurant inspections from the state.
Support for the takeover is also lacking with another group of powerful decision makers — the county board supervisors.
At 1:15 p.m., on Wednesday, March 19, a public hearing is scheduled in the county board room for the proposal.
Currently, the state inspects all of the restaurants and taverns in Walworth County.
Restaurants, taverns and other businesses should be inspected annually by the state to ensure safety guidelines are met.
However, state officials are behind in inspections and more than 100 licensed facilities weren’t checked during the 2012-13 inspection cycle in Walworth County.
The county’s Health and Human Services Department is developing a multi-year plan that would expand its offerings and bring more local control to the inspections process, which could apply to public pools, convenience stores, gas stations, tattoo and piercing parlors and restaurants.
However, before the county can begin inspecting these businesses, it will need to find support from the county’s elected officials.
So far, no supervisors have spoken in support of the issue and the majority of them have opposed it.
For several months the issue has been discussed during health and human services committee meetings.
Supervisor Jerry Grant of Whitewater, who chairs that committee, has expressed a number of concerns.
He is also asking board members to host a special meeting the day after the public hearing to vote on the restaurant inspection issue.
“Given the amount of time and effort that we have all put into the issue, I feel it is important that we make a final decision in this matter this term,” Grant wrote. “I think it will cause further delay and will be unfair to new county board supervisors to require them to make a decision on this important issue without the benefit of months of study.”
County Board Supervisor Joe Schaefer, who owns the Ye Olde Hotel & Restaurant in Lyons and also serves on the county board’s health and human services committee, is strongly opposed to the proposal.
“In the end, no doubt, it will cause an increase in fees,” Schaefer said on Feb. 27.
Supervisor Ken Monroe, who also serves on the committee, has expressed concerns that it would increase fees for business owners.
At a health and humans services committee meeting, County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell expressed concerns that the proposal will cost taxpayers more money.
“My concern is we will eventually be spending a lot of the county taxpayer’s money to fund this program,” Russell said at a December committee meeting. “It might start out to be cost neutral, but I have seen too many programs that the state runs that start out that way... it ends up the taxpayers are footing a large part of the bill.”
What the other supervisors think
Last week, the Regional News contacted supervisors whose thoughts on the county taking over restaurant inspections weren’t previously published in this paper.
Supervisor Tim Brellenthin of rural Elkhorn said he is concerned that the costs would be passed on to the businesses that need the inspections.
“At this point, I don’t feel that the county should take on this responsibility,” Brellenthin said.
“While I understand that the state is understaffed in that regard, I just don’t feel that the county should take over the responsibility and the cost involved in those inspections.”
Supervisor Richard Brandl of rural Sharon echoed Bellenthin’s concerns.
“Right now I’m really not in favor of it,” he said.
“I just don’t see the need to duplicate what the state is doing and, from what I’ve seen, the cost will go up for the licensing.”
Supervisor Daniel Kilkenny, town of Darien, said he simply doesn’t see a need for the county to take over the responsibility.
“I haven’t seen any reason that we would need to undertake that on a county level,” Kilkenny said.
Supervisor David Weber of Williams Bay said he hasn’t made up his mind, but he expressed a number of concerns.
Weber said he doesn’t think the fees “would justify the size and scope of the staff it would take to do the proper inspections.”
“It also worries me having local people inspecting local facilities,” he said. “You are almost asking for inappropriate reviews to be made. I’m not accusing anyone. I just think the potential is there.”
He also is concerned that if the county takes over the inspections it may be opening itself up to litigation.
“Would people be more likely to attack the county, which has fewer resources than the state to protect itself,” he asked.
The Regional News also attempted to contact supervisors Carl Redenius and Rick Stacey, but neither returned calls by press time.