FEE hikes of 70 per cent for annual food registrations are being described as outrageous by a Peninsula Link fast food restaurateur.
Barton Smith, who runs two Oporto outlets at the BP service stations on Peninsula Link, Baxter, said Mornington Peninsula Shire Council had demanded $650 for each of his food outlets, up from $388 each last year.
“How does the council explain such a large increase?” Mr Smith, who wants an Ombudsman’s inquiry, said.
“This is a rise of 69.71 per cent and must be a mistake or clearly there are grounds for this massive rise.
“I have received no explanation or justification as my businesses have not been reassessed and remain Class 2 food outlets.
“Inflation is averaging well under two per cent and, if this isn’t an error, then the council’s hefty price increase is outrageous.”
“The Reserve Bank is trying to stimulate the economy and yet the shire is trying to strangle us,” he said.
“We are a small business employing locals and to increase our fees just because they can, to cover some hole in their revenue, doesn’t pass the pub test. We are being crunched.”
Mr Smith said he was prepared to pay a “reasonable increase” of about $400 a store.
“This is blatant price gouging and an excessive tax increase on small business. It impacts all food outlets, coffee shops and cafes. If [the council] was a company it would be fined by the ACCC.”
The shire’s environment protection manager John Rankine defended the fee rises.
“The shire undertakes intensive assessments of food businesses in accordance with the Department of Health and Human Services’ best practice guidelines for food safety assessments,” he said.
“This is a requirement under the Food Act and has been in place for many years. [It] ensures the food served to customers is safe to eat.
“Increases in the extent of the assessments and the obligations on the shire have increased the cost of the program [and] this has been reflected in the increases in registration fees.”
Mr Rankine said allergen awareness was an example of the increased requirements. “There has been a notable increase in the number of food complaints arising from allergic reactions to food,” he said.
The basis of the fee is to provide such services as assessing food premises, awareness and education programs such as the shire’s Best Bites program and allergen awareness, proactive testing of food quality and the investigating complaints about food quality.
“Benchmarking against other municipalities has shown the shire’s fees are on the lower end of the scale in comparison,” Mr Rankine said.