The county is moving forward on adopting a proposed health code and, in advance of the state, the 2017 FDA Food Code. The FDA Code establishes definitions; sets standards for management and personnel, food operations, and equipment and facilities; and provides for food establishment plan review, permit issuance, inspection, employee restriction, and permit suspension.
Nearly the entire proposed Santa Cruz County (SCC) health code was adopted from the 2016 Pima County Code. The substantive changes were SCC adding a plan approval requirement and operating permits for food manufactures/food processors; wineries, breweries and distilleries; and private sewage collection and disposal systems.
SCC also modified the Pima Code to require an operating permit for “food establishments, including each operation of a food establishment,” which means that a restaurant with a bar will now pay for two operating permits. SCC also added a requirement for all food manufacturers/food processors to comply with the health code and added five pages on inspections, including a list of 55 inspection violations and corresponding point deductions, and a requirement for public display of inspection grade cards.
The draft code fee schedule includes an average of over 30% increases to 15 operating permits, the addition of eight new $75 permit fees and eight new $300 plan review fees for food establishments, four new miscellaneous permit/plan review fees, a reduction in late fees, and a number of new and revised fees for temporary events and food sampling ranging from one day to one year in duration. Significant increases in fees are proposed for 2023 and 2026.
Wineries, breweries and distilleries (WBDs) are not currently subject to operating permit fees and inspections; however, under the proposed code they will be covered. The new fee schedule requires WBDs to pay $300 for an annual operating permit for each line of business and $75 for each additional operation such as a tasting room.
For example, Flying Leap is both a winery and a distillery with production and tasting rooms for each type of product. Their new 2020 annual permit fee will be $750, and $900 in 2026. In contrast, Michael McGee, Director of Environmental Health for Cochise County considers wineries to be a low risk and their annual operating permit fee is $100.
The proposed SCC fees on wineries exceed those for a large food establishment serving a high-risk population. A hospital kitchen, for example, would pay $550 in 2020, and $650 in 2026. The largest “food establishment” bill payer would be the WBDs who produce a product with the lowest potential for foodborne illnesses.
Arizona Revised Statute 11-251.08 provides authority to the board of supervisors to adopt fee schedules for products and services the county provides to the public provided the fee defrays or covers, but does not exceed the expense of the product or service. The Board must hold a public hearing on the fee changes with a 15-day advance public notice. Supervisor Bracker stated that SCC fees had not been raised for the past ten years and the proposed fees, “were in line with other counties.”
SCC Supervisor Bruce Bracker stated “the Board of Supervisors agrees with the wineries that the state is overreaching.” According to Bracker, “The wineries don’t want the inspectors in the back of the house. They don’t want them messing with the wine production.” He further stated, “We don’t want to go back there.” He blames the state regulations and said that they have had talks with Gail Griffin, Andrea Dalessandro, Rosanna Gabaldon and Daniel Hernandez about getting the state to loosen up.
However, individual counties set the permit requirements and the fee schedule. The county has not agreed to modify the draft health code to grandfather the WBDs for low risk violations of the code that do not pose a threat to the public.
A request was delivered to the county on October 2, 2019 requesting information on how SCC was complying with the Arizona Statute requiring each county’s board of supervisors to appoint a board of health and to date, a response has not been received.
According to Jeff Terrell, director of SCC Environmental Health Services, no more than ten comments were submitted during the draft health code comment period, not counting comments from public meetings. He is uncertain if there will be any revisions to the draft prior to presenting it to the board of supervisors, tentatively scheduled for December 18, 2019.
Residents who wish to address the Board of Supervisors regarding the proposed SCC Proposed Health Code and proposed fee schedule, should attend the meeting at the Santa Cruz County Complex, 2150 N. Congress Drive, Nogales. The date and time for the meeting will be posted on their website: https://www.santacruzcountyaz.gov/169/Board-of-Supervisors.