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.