DALLAS (AP) — Dallas city officials have been using money intended for restaurant health inspections to cover budget shortfalls in other areas for two years, The Dallas Morning News reported Saturday.
About $1.36 million paid by restaurant owners to cover the costs of the inspections went elsewhere, meaning hundreds of restaurants didn’t get their mandatory twice-a-year inspections and more than 240 went all year without an inspection, the newspaper said.
“We reduced staffing across the board in all of these programs because we had a budget crisis,” Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm told the newspaper. “Yes, we could have done the program better. But we also did not charge (restaurant owners) more when the fees didn’t cover the program. And I think that’s an important point.”
It’s unclear whether anyone got sick because of the lack of inspections. Statistics show the number of food-borne illness complaints actually declined from 2008 through this year, although the newspaper said that appears to be the result of vigilance by restaurant owners.
Records show during the 2007-08 fiscal year, Dallas collected $1.9 million in restaurant inspection fees and spent nearly $3 million on inspections, with other city taxes covering the difference. Ninety-three percent of the required inspections were done.
Three years later, only 33 percent of the inspections were conducted. The city collected $2.17 million in fees but spent just $1.56 million on inspections as money was diverted to other purposes.
Tracey Evers, executive director of the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association, said restaurant owners who pay inspection fees expect that’s where the money is going.
“That would be surprising if it’s going to other things,” she said. “Maybe we need more transparency there.”
City officials say one problem with the restaurant inspection program has been keeping inspectors. Over the past five years, the number of inspectors has been trimmed from 23 to 15, but Assistant City Manager Joey Zapata said earlier this year that Dallas hasn’t even been able to keep that many jobs filled.
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