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Pennsylvania

Licensing boards increase fees to cover costs that include investigations

| Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Frank Perman paid $50 for his first funeral director's license in 1990. This year, the biennial renewal fee was eight times that — a flat $400.

“I fully expect another increase,” Perman said. He's the owner of Perman Funeral Home and Cremation Services on Saxonburg Boulevard in Shaler, a business in his family since the 1960s. “I don't see the cost leveling.”

The State Board of Funeral Directors is one of six state licensing boards that increased fees in the past two years because of projected deficits. As a result, Pennsylvanians who style hair, provide counsel, clean teeth and lift cranes will pay more to renew their licenses, while the regulatory boards aim to cover anticipated and unexpected costs.

“We're constantly balancing based on fees and budgets,” said Ian Harlow, the acting commissioner of the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs at the Department of State. “We keep track all year long, and we have to see where the spikes in cost are. Do we have control over them? Is it something we can reduce or eliminate?”

Reasons behind each deficit vary. But by law, each of the state's 29 licensing boards must have a balanced budget, meaning projected deficits necessitate increased revenue. Their budgets are mostly funded by license renewals paid every two years. In general, Harlow said, the most costly part of the boards' budgets is handling investigations.

“When the investigators go out to investigate, the board budget needs to cover not only those personnel costs but any expenses associated with that investigation,” Harlow said. “They have to cover the travel from point A to point B.”

In total, the boards spent about $43 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year on administrative and legal costs. This year, projected total costs are $48 million.

Other boards with fee increases include: the State Board of Dentistry, the State Board of Barber Examiners, the State Board of Cosmetology, the State Board of Crane Operators and the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors.

Janet Thomas, president of the Pennsylvania Barber and Cosmetology Association, said she hears mixed reactions.

“If we really felt like it was bettering our profession, I think 90 percent of the people would be in favor of it,” she said. Licensees, she said, would like to see more inspectors and a continuing education requirement, which would require legislation.

“You don't just cut hair,” Thomas said. “We're working with color; we're working with chemicals. Some people know how to do correct sanitation; some people don't.”

With more than 138,000 licenses, the cosmetology board is among the state's largest licensing units. It had a $3 million deficit before deciding to raise fees for cosmetologists and nail technicians from $35 to $67 effective Jan. 31. Cosmetology instructors and beauty schools will have increases. The barber board raised fees to $109 from $42 because it faced a deficit of nearly $1.3 million through the end of this fiscal year.

Dentist renewals are set to go to $263 from $250, a nominal increase, said Dr. Herbert Ray, a trustee with the Pennsylvania Dental Association. First-time applicant fees are going to $200 from $20.

“It's the cost of doing business in the state,” Ray said. “The state board's obligation is to investigate every single complaint.”

In the case of the funeral directors, a lawsuit cost the board at least $1 million in legal fees. This, Harlow said, was unexpected. Though the bureau has in-house counsel available to boards, Harlow said reports and experts cost additional money.

Harlow said in the past six years, the bureau has reduced its workforce by at least 15 positions to help control personnel costs. But the state's main priority is ensuring proper oversight, Harlow said.

“We have to do our due diligence to inspect, to make sure the public isn't harmed,” Harlow said. “That is our primary mission.”

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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