Regulations apparently approved by the Attleboro City Council in 2011 are unfairly grouping all restaurants into one category when it comes to grease use and costing them unnecessary fees, local Chamber of Commerce President Jack Lank said Tuesday night. Councilors said they would look into the matter.
Lank told the council that several restaurant owners had told him about the Fats, Oils and Grease program that places a new burden on restaurants because they supposedly have the potential to create higher operating costs for the city's sewer system. The regulations require all businesses determined to be "significant commercial users" to pay for a $175 permit every two years and pay a $100 surcharge every three months, making the total cost close to $500 per year. These charges are in addition to regular city sewer fees.
"Five-hundred doesn't sound like a lot of money," Lank told the council. "It is a lot of money for small businesses."
Lank said the cost appears to be connected to required inspections from the water department, which he says are not needed because the health department already regularly inspects restaurants.
"Somebody needs to explain to me why we need double inspections when we have somebody on the city payroll, it's his job as working for the health department for him to inspect and make sure everything's up to code," Lank said. "How hard is it for him to look at the grease trap? But instead, it seems we've created a job for somebody else."
Lank added that it appears all restaurants were being grouped into the same category for these regulations when some restaurants use a significant amount of grease while others use little or none.
How and when these regulations were created was not clear to Lank or any councilors, some of whom said they believed they were approved within the past few months. An article in The Sun Chronicle from Feb. 16, 2011 appears to describe the passage of these regulations at a meeting that took place the previous night. The minutes from the meeting on the city's website state Attleboro's wastewater ordinances were revised. It says specific information appears on an attachment that is not included with the minutes.
Ann Friedman, owner of Jonathan's Coffee Cafe, said she had been unable to get an answer from anybody at City Hall during the past several months about how, when and why the regulations were created.
"Everyone I asked about it knew nothing about it," she told the council as she described her unsuccessful quest to get answers since she received a notice from the city about the fees in July.
Councilor Peter Blais said he remembered the discussion about the regulations prior to their approval and that a public hearing took place. He said he believed nobody spoke at the hearing. Friedman said she didn't know about a hearing, and had she known "I would have made sure I was there."
Councilor Mark Cooper, who was not on the council when these regulations were apparently approved, said the city should look at whether the fees are needed.
"We really have to look at the cost burden and why we have a fee," Cooper said. "Just because we have a regulation doesn't mean we have to have a fee associated with it."
Others on the council said they were sympathetic about local businesses having to bear new costs. Peter Blais, who was serving as acting council president, assigned Councilor Shannon Heagney (who heads the council's Committee on Ordinances, Elections & Legislative Matters) to look into the matter.
Blais said, "If there has been a mistake made or something should have been different, I truly believe we'll look into it."