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Business Grease Fees May Have Negative Impact

The regulations may have been approved in 2011, but nobody appears to be sure.

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."

Ann Marie Friedman February 07, 2013 at 10:02 PM
Thank you Jonathan for spelling my first name correctly...I laugh at your comment on our last name...
Ann Marie Friedman February 07, 2013 at 10:12 PM
Gretchen..This is not about grease fires. This is about a program called fats,oils and grease and what is released into the waste water system. Please do not comment on something that you do not know anything about. It insults the restaurant people to have misinformation on a problem that we are trying to get a handle on. We as restaurants have many guidelines that we adhere to from the Health Dept. Fire Dept. and City regulations. We are trying to understand this particular program and work with the city to be fair about how it is implemented.
Gretchen Robinson February 09, 2013 at 11:26 PM
Thank you, Ann Marie. I stand corrected. Next time I'll pay more attention. I have deleted my comment.
Wayne Brown February 18, 2013 at 03:01 PM
I service the restaurant industry in RI. I have heard that the Narragansett Bay Commission fines restaurants over and above any fees charged to utilize the sewers. They are fined based on sewer grease level testing that I believe is done quarterly, mainly at targeted high grease producing restaurants. Apparently these restaurants have been identified over the years, based on grease levels found getting past the grease trap system during inspections. I'm not sure of the details, however I know of a National Chain restaurant that pays around $50K per year based on their level of violation. I might add, this restaurant generates $3.5 million in sales yearly. While grease getting in the sewers is a huge issue, I would say its impossible to put all restaurants in the same category. Coffee shops generate virtually no grease, so why would they have to pay any surcharge? To pay for all the non-compliance users?
Gretchen Robinson February 19, 2013 at 02:13 AM
I'm always amazed at the info. I get on PATCH that I'd never get anywhere else. That is truly eye opening and I've never seen a newspaper report on this. I do know that some owners of diesel cars use cooking oil to run their cars. But this is new.

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