Leonardtown, MD — A St. Mary’s County commissioner has opposed a public hearing on proposed increases in St. Mary’s County Health Department Environmental Health fees. Commissioner John O’Connor [R – 3rd District] said during the commissioners’ July 27 meeting that he opposed any fee increases and instead urged the health department to move ahead with an on-line program.

The proposed fee increases range from $7 to $38 and include services such as soils evaluation, septic system inspection, site plan approval, pool permits and food service permits, including temporary ones for non-profit organizations for fundraising dinners. O’Connor  (shown at left) said he was concerned about the increased cost to small food vendor businesses

St. Mary’s County Health Officer Dr. Meenakshi Brewster told the commissioners, “The current environmental health fee schedule falls far short of the actual cost of services, as confirmed by a desk audit conducted in 2013.” She said the fees haven’t been increased since 2007 and a fee review was postponed because of the downturn in the economy.

Dr. Brewster stated in a memo to the commissioners dated July 16: “Demand for environmental health services has bounded upward since the last Environmental Health fee schedule increase in 2007. This is despite a significant reduction (11 percent) in environmental health staffing since that time. The St. Mary’s County population has increased by 13% while the demand on our environmental health services has increased by 49 percent since 2007.”

In response to O’Connor’s suggestion about online fee processing, Dr. Brewster said that wouldn’t reduce the need for staffing because of the overwhelming demand for services, although it may slow down the need for additional staffing n the future. O’Connor said he wasn’t suggesting cutting people but looking at ways to achieve efficiency.

Commissioner Todd Morgan [R – 4th District] pointed out that the request was only for a public hearing to solicit public opinion. “Part of the process is for the public to have a say at the table,” Morgan said.

But O’Connor said he wasn’t even in favor of going that far. He and Commissioner Mike Hewitt [R: 2nd District] voted against in the 3-2 decision for the commissioners to move forward with a public hearing to consider the health department’s request.

Contact Dick Myers at dick.myers@thebaynet.com