City agrees to reduce restaurant fines

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Ellen Laperna of Bourbon Street restaurant believes the city council’s deal to lower restaurant fines is a good idea.

 THE COURIER/Photo by Zachary Kraehling
Ellen Laperna of Bourbon Street restaurant believes the city council’s deal to lower restaurant fines is a good idea.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced a deal to reduce restaurant fines that may make the grade with owners.

The City Council and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) said the joint agreement will reduce fines generated by violations of the city’s inspection system by $10 million per year.

“Restaurant letter grading was never supposed to be a way to generate additional fine revenue, especially since the Health Department discovered long ago that higher fines don’t by themselves result in better sanitary conditions,” Quinn said.

Fines will be set in specific amounts for each violation under the new deal.

Approximately 60 percent of violations will be set to the minimum $200 fine, including low-level violations such as not properly storing sanitized utensils, which was an average of $295.

Formerly, any violation could result in a fine of $200 to $2,000, depending on the inspector’s discretion.

“Every [inspector] has their own opinion on it,” said Pasquale Fabiano, manager of Il Vesuvio restaurant in Bayside. “They should come in and tell you what’s wrong and if you don’t fix it, they should fine you.”

Fines for the two highest levels of critical violations will be reduced from $349 and $420 to $300 and $350, respectively.

Also, fines for basic operating errors, such as operating without a permit, interrupting a health inspector or failing to post the grading card will set owners back $1,000.

An eatery will not have to pay a fine if it received a violation for a structural irregularity, such as a sink, but can prove that it had never been cited as a problem before. However, the irregularity must be fixed.

“Fantastic,” said Ellen Laperna, manager of Bourbon Street restaurant in Bayside. “They’re doing their jobs, but of course you want the fines to be lower.”

Councilmembers will also introduce five bills to improve the inspection system.

The bills will develop an inspection code of conduct, require publication of detailed data on the restaurant inspection process, have DOHMH establish a consultative inspection process, establish a Food Service Establishment Advisory Board and create an Ombudsman office within the DOHMH to tend to comments and complaints to the inspection system.

“At this point, moving to fixed fines will help give the system more predictability, and even with reduced fines, the grading system will continue to encourage restaurant managers to prepare food safely,” said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.

Additional reporting by Zachary Kraehling

 

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