July 27, 2008

Fee to Help Businesses Follow Codes

By Keith Purtell, Muskogee Phoenix, Okla.

Jul. 27--Although business owners sometimes say they are already burdened by government red tape and cost, a new fee to be charged by the state may actually be a money saver.

Anyone planning to open a food service or lodging business should note that the Oklahoma State Department of Health now requires submission of a Plan Review Application along with a nonrefundable $200 application fee as part of a process to help the applicant comply with licensure regulations.

The new requirement may save business owners thousands of dollars.

Dana Smith, manager at the IHOP restaurant in Muskogee, said he didn't think the fee was a huge expense when compared to all the other costs of constructing a new building.

"I'm kind of wondering who wants to control the process more than what is already being done right now, because you already have to have those plans approved by city and county," he said." And of course, there's fire, and health, and building inspections before you can even open."

While that's true, the fee has been added to compensate for services that are time consuming and have previously been free.

In addition to the fee, an Application for Plan Review must be submitted to the county health department in which the establishment is located, for new construction of an establishment, conversion of an existing structure for use as a food service establishment, remodel of an existing food service establishment, or for an existing establishment that plans to change its type of operation.

Tressa Madden, director of consumer protection, OSDH, said that larger cities won't notice any difference except the fee.

"There are some cities and some counties that require a plan review, but if you go across the state in general that's not normal," she said. "You look at Muskogee, you look at Norman, you look at Lawton; those bigger cities have those kinds of setups. So there's not really anything different. It's just that for the process and the time and the whole procedure, we're now going to start charging a fee for something that was already existent, or the counties that didn't have it will be implementing that procedure."

The biggest difference will be in small communities, which will be more carefully monitored to make sure restaurants are built according to state codes.

"In Muskogee County, for example, if you go into to one of the smaller towns, they don't have a city plan review, and the next thing you know, this restaurant has opened and they don't have commercial equipment," Madden said. "Now it's costing them because they didn't follow the rules that are in the food codes, and now they are going to have to have an additional expense because they'll have to replace that residential stove or put in that sink that they should have put in when they were in that construction mode."

More information

The Application for Plan Review (Form No. 824) and specific instructions are available on the Oklahoma State Department of Health Web site: http://www.ok.gov/health/Protective_Health/Consumer_Protection_Division/. Select "Retail Foods" or "Hotels-Motels" for county-specific application and submittal instructions. Applicants may also call (405) 271-5243 or their county health department.


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Copyright (c) 2008, Muskogee Phoenix, Okla.

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