Because of an anticipated lack of funding, the city of Minneapolis will no longer conduct health inspections of tattoo parlors, tanning beds, laundry and dry cleaning facilities and “staple food” sellers next year, a city official said this week.
“One of the things that we will have to scale back on is really stop all of the city programs and initiatives that we currently work on and enforce, just because of capacity issues,” Daniel Huff, the city’s environmental health director, told a City Council committee on Monday.
Huff told the council’s Public Health, Environment, Civil Rights and Engagement Committee that the health department will lose two full-time health inspectors in 2019.
“Wow!” said Council Member Andrew Johnson, who asked Huff about the department’s staffing levels. “These are essential services for the safety of residents in Minneapolis, and if we shortchange them, we are basically gambling with the safety of both our residents and our visitors in the city.”
Huff told the committee that his staff is doing 400 to 500 inspections a year, higher than the U.S Food and Drug Administration standard that recommends that health inspectors conduct no more than 320 inspections a year.
“Fortunately, we have above-average inspectors,” Huff said. “However, we are stretched and are nowhere close to meeting those recommended national standards.”
The department had received one-time $200,000 funding for two additional inspectors in Mayor Betsy Hodges’ 2018 budget. The two positions won’t get continued funding in Mayor Jacob Frey’s 2019 proposed budget.
The mayor’s office said city ordinances were enforced prior to the two inspectors being added temporarily this year. “We have confidence in our fantastic staff that those regulations can be enforced going forward,” Darwin Forsyth, a spokesperson for Frey, said in a statement.
Under an agreement with the state departments of health and agriculture, the Minneapolis Health Department is responsible for conducting inspections of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores and food trucks, among other facilities. It also enforces city ordinances and supports other city departments.
According to Huff, the staff shortage will primarily affect inspections of six programs: Green To Go, which requires environmentally friendly food packaging; staple foods, which requires convenience stores and other neighborhood food retailers to sell vegetables and fruits; tattoo parlors, laundry, tanning and food defense, which is safeguarding food from deliberate contamination.
In his budget priorities, Frey has made fulfilling his affordable housing promises a major part of his agenda, with a record $40 million in city funding in the next year’s proposed budget allocated toward his housing goals.
“When we are not even enforcing ordinances we have, trying to work on new policy is like going cabin shopping when you don’t even have enough money to buy the groceries every week,” Johnson said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s irresponsible.”