Brookfield addresses lack of health inspections

? After four years of putting health inspections on the back burner, the village board ponders outsourcing the job.

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By BOB UPHUES

Businesses in Brookfield that serve or sell food can soon expect regular inspections after a four-year period in which inspections were rarely performed. In coming weeks, the village board is expected to ink a contract with either Cook County or a private firm to do inspections of some 60 businesses within the village that require them.

In addition to businesses in the food service or grocery industries, regular inspections will also be carried out at motels, hair salons and pet shops under the proposed new deal with an outside inspection service.

Village trustees are expected to approve an ordinance making the change in its health inspection practices at its June 13 meeting.

In all, Brookfield should have been completing well over 100 health inspections every year. Each restaurant should have been inspected three times each year, while others businesses should have been inspected twice annually.

Since 2001, however, there is no indication that the village carried out health inspections with any regularity. According to records obtained from village staff, Trustee Kit Ketchmark said that the village performed just 27 health inspections from Jan. 1, 2004 to March 1, 2005. Of those 27 inspections, 10 were the result of complaints, Ketchmark said.

The problem started in 2001, when Andrew Szocka, who served as Brookfield's part-time health inspector since 1992 resigned his position. The position was never filled, and health inspections were completed by either building inspector William Kernan or the village's building director, Jack Leddin. Leddin died in June 2004, leaving Kernan, the village's only full-time building inspector, with the task of doing health inspections as well.

According to a May 17 memo to Village Manager Dave Owen from Ruth Ann Blyth of the village's Building Department, "Jack Leddin and Bill Kernan, both having the Food service Sanitation training and certification, completed inspections as needed. I doubt if inspections were three times per year per state statute."

In March 2005, Szocka was rehired as a "supervisory" health inspector at a rate of $900 per month to comply with state requirements for health inspector certification. Szocka is a registered sanitarian. However, Kernan still performed the actual inspections, and health inspections were a priority between March 1 and May 20 of this year.

Kernan said he expected to complete health inspections for every business requiring one in Brookfield by May 20. However, since Kernan's primary role is as a building inspector, the emphasis on health inspections has been a burden on the department.

In addition, the current set-up is costly. In addition to Szocka's supervisor salary of approximately $11,000, the village also has to figure Kernan's time into the inspection equation.

By comparison, using the Cook County Department of Health would cost the village $60 per inspection. Even if the county inspected each of the 60 businesses three times per year, the cost to the village would be just under $11,000, the cost of Szocka's salary alone. The village also has at least one proposal from a private firm, calling for a fee of $50 per inspection.

Two neighboring communities, LaGrange Park and Riverside have started using the county's health inspectors in recent years, and officials there say the change has been beneficial.

"We're incredibly happy with the county's inspectors," said Steven Jones, village manager of LaGrange Park. "There's a high level of professionalism, expertise and knowledge that's tough to get on the local level. They've done exactly what we needed them to do."

LaGrange Park passes the cost of inspections along to businesses, so the expense in terms of staff time is minimal, Jones said.

That experience was echoed by Riverside Village Manager Kathleen Rush, who said that inspectors are "consistent" and that the new program was going "very well."

Riverside rolls part of the cost of health inspection fees into its $50 annual business license, Rush said.

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