Dallas restaurant inspections suffered as City Hall diverted revenue

As small producers in Austin complain about government regulation limiting local sales, it was revealed the city of Dallas has diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees intended to pay for restaurant inspections  for the last two years.

The Dallas Morning News reports the money, paid by restaurant owners, should have helped fund a robust inspections program.

Instead, it helped shore up a struggling city budget while hundreds of restaurants did not get their required twice-a-year inspections and more than 240 restaurants went a full year without seeing a single inspector.

City officials say the problem revolves around the difficulty of adjusting the fees restaurants are charged each year. They note that, in 2007 and 2008, when the city did a far better job of inspecting restaurants than it did in 2011 and much of 2012, taxpayers had to supplement the program to the tune of more than $2.7 million.

“We reduced staffing across the board in all of these programs because we had a budget crisis. Yes, we could have done the program better. But we also did not charge [restaurant owners] more when the fees didn’t cover the program. And I think that’s an important point,” said City Manager Mary Suhm.

It’s common, though, for taxpayer dollars to subsidize programs such as restaurant inspections, said Robert Bland, chairman of the public administration department at the University of North Texas.

But fees charged to individuals or businesses that support specific regulations should not be used to pay for unrelated programs in the city budget, he said. It appears that is exactly what happened with restaurant inspection fees.

Food hazards found at Seattle-area farmers markets

 Heading out to the farmer’s market Saturday morning for some tasty wares?

King County health officials (that’s the Seattle area) have found so many hazardous food practices at farmers markets this year, ranging from poor hand-washing to unsafe food temperatures, that they’re proposing a five-fold increase in permitting fees.

Vanessa Ho of Seattlepi.com reports that in 265 routine inspections of farmers markets this year, health officials found 252 violations, of which 189 were considered "red critical." The inspections covered an eight-month period of roughly 40 markets.

To deal with the number and severity of risks, Public Health – Seattle & King County has proposed hiking a market’s annual permitting fee from $100 to $502.

"On the one hand, it’s a big jump in cost," Chris Curtis, director of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance in Seattle, said Friday.

"But on the other hand, I think we’re coming up with better compliance."

Snake on subway makes for costly salmonella cleanup

Don’t take your snake on the subway.

That’s what Melissa Moorhouse of Allston, Mass. discovered after her three-foot boa slithered away from under her scarf and around her neck on the Red Line between the Broadway and Andrew stations in Boston.

Penelope the snake was discovered two weeks later in a subway car at the JFK/UMass station.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority decided it had to do a special sanitizing of the car to reduce the risk of salmonella, and then sent Moorhouse a cleaning bill of $650.