Fee structure holds back Clark County small-business owners

“I understand what those fees are for; inspectors make sure everyone’s doing a safe job. I’m for that. I want to eat food that isn’t going to make me sick. I can see fees increase because people have to be paid, but it was a surprise when I heard the price of the market permit. I was taken aback. The Public Health department said I could pay in installments. We decided to get the market permit and cater with the market menu. We couldn’t afford both licenses,” Hinajosa said. 

According to Bashaw, program manager for food safety at Clark County Public Health, the fees for starting a tamale business are around $2,000 to $3,000. After that, the fees are around $1,000 per year. That means if a business owner is able to make a $1 profit per tamale, they would have to make at least 3,000 tamales to break even. Every year, they would have to make 1,000 tamales just to pay the yearly fee. According to one tamale maker, it takes a full day (8 a.m. to 11 p.m.) to make 40 dozen, or 480, tamales.

The Washington Department of Agriculture provides food processor licenses to allow for the sale of food in the state of Washington. The annual fee is around $92. This includes plan review and inspection. To obtain this type of license, a vendor must be selling wholesale items and not retail items. Wholesale means selling to another vendor (like a grocery store or cafe) and that vendor sells directly to the public. According to Will Satak, the department’s regional manager for Southwest Washington, vegetarian tamales would fall into this category but tamales with beef, chicken or pork can’t be licensed through the department.

Satak notes that the agency’s licensing fees are vastly lower than the county’s because the state agency isn’t solely supported through licensing fees. Satak previously was a food inspector for Mason County and notes that county public health agencies’ funding is at the mercy of the county. Satak’s position at the state relies on a more varied and generous operating fund.

Marcela Munoz is one of the many would-be business owners who would like to sell her tamales to generate extra income to supplement her family’s modest finances. Munoz runs a berry farm with her husband. The couple sells their fruit at the Salmon Creek Farmers Market for three to four months a year. Munoz wants to start her own food business to bring in income for the rest of the year. She’s made tamales for community gatherings and for her kids’ classmates and teachers. They’ve all told her that she should start a business.

Maria Flores

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