PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Portland’s restaurants have been fighting back against recently proposed fee increases as they recover from the pandemic – and they’re winning.
The Oregon Health Authority had previously given authorization to counties to increase inspection fees, and Multnomah County’s proposal would have made the program able to fund itself.
The fees, depending on restaurant size, would have increased by $45 to $70 per year, bringing fees up to $775 for small restaurants and over $1,200 for large restaurants. The county says staff conducts 15,000 inspections– finding an average of two violations each day.
But several business owners told Multnomah County that now is not the time to increase their costs.
“To go up much more than the fees right now I think would be really stressful for people in the Portland downtown core,” Rachel Clarke, the owner of Goose Hollow Inn, said. “New businesses like mine often operate on tight budgets and face considerable start-up costs. An increase in fees can place undue strain on our financial resources.”
Commissioners had previously approved $1 million per year to fund the inspection program over the past five years. . A Multnomah County spokesperson says it will likely have to happen again to fund the program, now that the increase has been shot down.
Clackamas and Washington Counties have already increased fees for inspections, with one large increase rather than the phased approach Multnomah County had considered.
“We want to provide the collaboration needed to do two things at once,” Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said. “Make sure our environmental health program and inspections are fully funded. And make sure we don’t ask that all fiscal impacts happen all at once.”
Several restaurant owners and coalitions of businesses voiced their opposition to the increases on Thursday in both letters and public testimonies. They said it would squeeze them while they continue their struggle to return to a pre-COVID business flow.
Commissioners would have only approved one year of increases, but Greg Astley with the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association said businesses were concerned about its future impact.
“It’s still an incredibly difficult time for restaurants in Oregon, and specifically really in the Portland area, dealing with everything from increased vandalism to safety and security issues for employees,” Astley said.
Here’s how the fees break down: a 6% increase in 2024, 8% in both 2025 and 2026, and a near-8% increase in 2027. That would lead to a total of a $246 increase for small restaurants and a near-$389 increase for large businesses.
A similar 6% increase on inspection fees would have applied to food carts and facilities like pools as well, adding up to around $684,000 that the county currently pulls from the general fund.