Proposal would raise fees to make up for budget cuts
By DAN WHEAT
Providers of seasonal farmworker housing have until April 26 to comment on a proposed state Department of Health fee increase that one industry leader has called unreasonable.
"The department should be commended for its recent program cost reductions but to increase license fees over 600 percent is unreasonable," said Kirk Mayer, manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.
"The last thing we want to do is raise fees and raising them a large percentage is difficult to do. But it's important to have the program to monitor facilities for the health and safety of workers," said Debra Fisher, manager of the department's Migrant Farmworker Housing Program in Olympia.
The Legislature allowed the department to increase fees to make up for $116,000 in 2010 budget cuts, Fisher said.
Right now, fees for annual licensing and inspection range from $75 to $200 per applicant per year, depending on the size of facility and number of occupants, Fisher said.
The proposal is to change that to $11 per year per occupant at maximum capacity, she said. Based on 230 licensees that should raise $116,000 per year on top of $25,000 already allotted from fees, she said. Most licensees would not see an increase until next year, she said.
Fees for an 84-bed, on-farm facility could go from $125 to $924 a year, a 639 percent increase, Mayer said. Cost for a 180-bed, off-farm facility could go from $150 to $1,980, a 1,220 percent increase, he said.
It will be a big hit for small growers providing on-farm housing, he said. On-farm housing is common in central Washington orchards.
Increases will be larger for larger facilities, Fisher said.
A public hearing on the fee proposal is set for 9 a.m. April 26 at the Department of Health, 310 Israel Road, Tumwater, Wash. Written comments may be faxed or e-mailed by 5 p.m. April 26 to rules coordinator John Hilger at 360-236-2901 or email@example.com.
A decision may be made by late June or early July by department Secretary Mary Selecky, Fisher said.
The earliest it would take effect would be Aug. 1, which means the main impact would be next year since fees are due by Feb. 28 each year, Fisher said.
Operations of less than 10 occupants and less than five units are exempt from fees, she said.
The fee for the Washington Grower's League 270-bed Sage Bluff camp near Wenatchee will go from $200 to $2,970, said Jesse Lane, the league's housing manager.
"We're not against it but want to work with the department to see if there are alternatives," Lane said. The league probably won't have to raise rates, he said.