Health inspections, and the possibility of turning that responsibility over to Cook County, was discussed at Tuesday's Chicago Ridge Village Board meeting—but trustees assured concerned residents that no decisions were imminent.
At the invitation of Trustee William McFarland, George Papadopoulos, assistant director of health services for Cook County, explained the county’s role in health inspections.
“We’re technically only responsible for unincorporated Cook County, but we also handle health inspections for 32 municipalities,” said Papadopoulos. He said that Palos Hills, Palos Park and Palos Heights are among the communities that use the county services.
“The cost is $100 per inspection, and we generally do two inspections per year, roughly every six months,” he added. He said all establishments that serve or sell food are inspected, from mini-marts to large grocery stores and restaurants. Nursing homes and other facilities that serve food are also inspected he said, noting that municipalities are not generally charged for follow-up inspections done to ensure that all corrections are made.
He said that state law requires that the inspections are done by people holding the LEHP designation of licensed environmental health practitioner.
Papadopoulos said fees were last raised in 2002, from $60. He said that in 1993, when he joined the department, the fees were $40.
“The program is done to help suburban municipalities, but the fees don’t actually cover our costs,” he said.
He said that if Chicago Ridge were to contract with the county, “We would perform inspections on your behalf, and send you quarterly records. They’re actually your records anyway.” He said that aside from the quarterly records, the county officials do not usually notify municipalities about every inspection done, unless there are major issues that would require a business to be closed.
“Our goal is not to close businesses,” he said, adding that the county does not actually have the large notification stickers that the city of Chicago’s health department posts on businesses that are temporarily closed for failing health inspections.
“The goal is to get the problems solved. If you want to put up a sign saying closed for repairs, that is OK with us,” he said.
When resident Lynn Barker asked if the village was seriously considering contracting with the county for health inspections, McFarland said that nothing will be done immediately anyway.
“It was just an exploration of what is out there,” said McFarland. “I’d like to do a lot more research on this.
Currently inspections are done by Rick Ruge, the village’s part-time health inspector, and Barker and several people in the audience commented that the job should remain within the village.
The cost of inspections currently works out to be about $65 per inspection, village officials said, but Trustee Frances Coglianese said cost savings would be realized if the village billed the businesses, as many communities do.
Barker responded that the business licensing fee should either cover the cost of the inspections or be lowered if they are going to be charged, and Mayor Chuck Tokar pointed out that the typical business license fee of $100 basically does cover the inspection cost now.
“We have tons of questions. At least I do,” said Trustee Amanda Cardin.
McFarland said after the meeting that he would be against passing the inspection cost on to businesses. “We need our businesses. I don’t want to scare anyone away. There will be a lot more to come on this (before the current system is changed),” he said.