SRHD Health Board denies restaurants’ request to extend health permit

SPOKANE, Wash. — For some local restaurants, every dollar counts. That includes money paid each year for health permits through the county.

“Nobody’s happy about what’s taken place since March,” said Mark Starr, the owner of David’s Pizza.

Restaurant owners are feeling a little more stressed than others. In the last 11 months, they’ve had to close down and reopen. It was an endless cycle.

Now that they’re open with some limitations, it’s still not enough.

“Actually, utilities went up because if you might recall, for about five weeks, we opened and we had to have doors and windows open,” Starr said.

Starr and the Spokane Hospitality Association are asking the Spokane Regional Health District for some leniency, wanting an extension on the yearly health permits.

They’re asking the health district to wait six more months before they have to pay their permit again.

Starr’s permit is up for renewal, so he wants to be able to wait six months before having to purchase a new one.

He says many businesses could not operate for during the pandemic because of the state’s mandates.

“This just seems like a natural progression. Once we’ve been told we can’t operate with a license they sold us, that we would at least get some credit for that. That’s all we’re asking,” said Starr.

Every year, restaurants pay the health district somewhere between $250 and $800 to keep operating. It includes costs for inspections and more.

That money funds the district with $1.2 million.

“If we were to extend that six months out, we’re looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $600,000 plus to do that, to the cost of the agency,” said Ray Byrne, with the health district.

Ultimately, the health decided against it, saying it’s given relief to restaurant owners already with PPE and other funds through the CARES Act.

They also wouldn’t know where they’d get that $600,000 to help.

The district also currently waives late fees for those needing it. That means if a restaurant’s health permit was up for renewal, the owner would have up to 30 days to renew it without being charged the $110 late fee.

The health district says it works closely with those restaurant owners when they’re up for renewal. If the restaurants don’t renew and continue operating, they can be shut down. However, it is all on a case-by-case basis.

“I’m empathetic to our restaurant owners and we want to try and find ways to help them. I know we do business grants as well, instead of doing something like this. I think this is something we can reconsider if we get more COVID relief,” said Mayor Ben Wick of Spokane Valley. He is also a health district board member.

It was disappointing and surprising news to Starr. He thought it would happen, but it didn’t.

“We’ll find a way to make it through,” he said. “It’s not the first time we had the wind knocked out of us or the feet kicked out from underneath us.”

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