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Allegheny County Health Department raising permit fees 25 percent

| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 1:21 p.m.

The Allegheny County Health Department increased fees Wednesday for dozens of permits and services the department oversees.

Eighty-nine fees will increase an average of about 30 percent. The department has not increased its fees since 2001.

Dr. Lee Harrison, the board's chairman, said the increase is fair and amounts to less than the rate of inflation. He said it should have been done sooner.

The changes will affect annual permit fees charged for restaurants, swimming pools, sprinkler heads, recycling centers, landfills and many other housing, plumbing and waste facilities the department tracks. Fees in those areas generated about $3.6 million in 2012 for the county.

The health department and board will consider charging schools $150 for a formerly free food safety inspection, Harrison said.

“It's a little unfair for the people who are paying the bill,” said John Graf, president of the western chapter of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association and owner of The Priory, a banquet center and hotel in the North Side. “We really don't have a choice but to pay these fees.”

Graf did not object to the county raising their fees but did not like the sudden jump. If restaurants suddenly raised their menu prices, customers would balk, he said.

Dr. Kotayya Kondaveeti warned fellow board members to expect outrage from businesses and others affected by the increase in fees after years of stagnation. The board added an amendment to the new fees stating the department will examine fees every three years.

The department is developing a schedule for implementation of the new permit fees, spokesman Guillermo Cole wrote in an email.

As part of the new fees, board members eliminated a cap on fees for facilities with multiple restaurants.

Heinz Field and PNC Park on the North Shore and Consol Energy Center in Uptown and other places with more than one food vendor used to pay a flat fee of $1,386 a year in restaurant fees. These facilities will now be charged a fee for each vendor. The permits will be offered at a discount, Harrison said.

The board asked department staff to study the affect of removing the cap and report back to determine if adjustments are required.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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