Meeting Time: April 23, 2024 at 9:00am PDT

Agenda Item

4a) Discussion and Possible Action Including Acceptance of Informational Report(s) from the Assessor/Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters, Acting Auditor-Controller/Treasurer-Tax Collector, District Attorney, Sheriff and Various County Department Heads or Designee(s) (Sponsor: Executive Office)

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    Michael Foley 2 months ago

    I am President of the Mendocino County Farmers Market Association and am commenting in that capacity on the proposed Environmental Health fees.

    The Department has made great strides in rationalizing fees pertaining to the small businesses that Farmers Markets incubate and host, and we applaud the decreases in fees proposed for Temporary Food Facility permits and mobile food facilities. At the same time two categories of fees that apply to the very smallest producers are proposed to increase substantially, as is the fee for Farmers Markets. The Cottage Foods licenses are proposed to increase 198% for Cottage Foods A and 120% for Cottage Foods B. These are the very smallest producers and they are the ones most in need of support, as they are launching new small businesses -- which, as we all know, have a much larger multiplier effect in the economy than large businesses. Cottage Food A licenses do not entail an inspection, yet we are seeking a substantial increase here. The Cottage Food B increase represents a substantial burden on the producer.

    The other objectionable increase is for Farmers Markets. Once again the Department has brought forth a proposal to increase our fees (per market) from zero to $460. This represents a third of the operating budget of our smallest market and a substantial portion of the operating budgets of the rest. And the Department does not INSPECT Farmers Markets as such. In fact, we do you the service, not only of incubating small food businesses and supporting local food production in the county, but of aggregating small food producers, enabling inspectors to reach several in one visit. You should be paying us to operate (and some communities around the country subsidize farmers markets), not the other way around.

    At base the problem here is the decision the BOS made to require EH to enact 100% cost recovery. The fee schedule reflects this, with losses in some categories counterbalanced by gains in others. But the Board has failed to recognize a fundamental principal of public policy: if a county service is meant to benefit the public, then the public should pay for it through taxes. If it were exclusively a service to a narrow group of users, they should pay. You are requiring the regulated to bear the full burden of a public cost.

    The policies that EH enforces are presumably intended to benefit the general public. Taxpayer money should be included in their budget. Period. It's true that EH enforcement might also benefit food producers and providers, given that they could be presumed to enhance public trust in those establishments. It makes sense for them to bear part of the burden. But not all of it. And the burden should be shared in keeping with public policy objectives, not the arbitrary accounting of balancing a gain in one category against a loss in another. The smallest businesses deserve the most support, as they are not only the most needy but the ones that we want to nourish into more thriving contributors to our economy. That is precisely what Farmers Markets in this county and around the country do: they build businesses. They and the businesses they support should receive some priority in decision making.

    In sum, the Farmers Market Association urges you 1) to RESCIND the requirement that EH operate on a 100% cost recovery basis, 2) ACCEPT for the time being the reduced fees proposed for Temporary Food Facility and mobile facility permits, 3) REJECT the proposed increases for Cottage Food licenses, 4) insist that EH present evidence of significant rationalization of its operations and cost-cutting before developing a future fee schedule, and 5) REJECT the proposed fee for Farmers Markets.

    Sincerely, on behalf of the Mendocino County Farmers Market Association,

    Michael Foley
    foley.mw@protonmail.com
    707 510-7473