Eight restaurants are getting back $2,475 in fees paid to Hall County in the past year.
In 2017, the county made significant changes to its suite of environmental health fees, increasing fees for almost every environmental health requirement — septic tank inspections, food service safety classes, hotel inspections and others — in state and local law.
Tucked into that package was a change that doubled any late fees paid by tourist accommodation businesses and restaurants to the Hall County Health Department.
The changes created some sticker shock among the businesses that were stuck with the late fee last year.
“I had several call — a couple that were four or five days late,” said Jeff Stowe, a member of the Hall County Board of Commissioners representing District 4 covering Gainesville. “What we had passed was a double fee. Their fee was $400 and they had to pay an additional $400, which I thought was extremely steep and we didn’t realize that at the time.”
Now, the county is making plans to return the late fees paid by the eight businesses and lower the late fees. Instead of doubling immediately, Stowe said the commission is moving to a “stair-step” increase to late fees depending on the lateness of the fee.
There are a few restaurants that frequently pay bills late, Stowe said, but in general restaurants pay fees on time — making a 100 percent late fee punitive for most of the businesses caught short by the fee because of end-of-year sales.
However, the businesses will have to wait a little while longer to get their cash back. Commissioners voted on Tuesday, May 8, to table action on new late fees until the Hall County Board of Health has a chance to review the commission’s recommendation and propose changes to the fees.
Commissioners will take their vote on lowering late fees and returning money to the restaurants that paid them on May 24.