Restaurant in New York City can expect to see some changes aimed at reducing fines and helping owners improve the scores posted on their front doors thanks to an agreement between city officials.
The reforms come after weeks of negotiation between the City Council and the Health Department, both of which agreed to reduce fines by 25 percent, closer amounts levied against violators before the grading system launched in 2010.
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With the fine reductions also come fixed fine levels, whereas fines were previously decided on by a panel and could range from $200 to $2,000. Inspectors' standards and exceptions, however, remain the same.
Before the health inspection system was overhauled by the Bloomberg administration, the city took in about $32.8 million. By the end of 2012, the city reported $52 million in fines. The new changes, which would go into effect by June at the earliest, are expected to drop by $20 million.
"Letter grading was never intended to be a revenue generator for the city of New York," Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said. "The rules will provide much-needed fine relief to the city's restaurants and will show that we can treat restaurants fairly without compromising public safety."
The new rules, which must first be approved by the city's Board of Health, also include a provision that allows restaurant owners to request an consultative inspection — an ungraded, penalty-free option in preparation for the real thing.
"We are giving restaurants the tools they need to improve their performance," Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said, "and are balancing fairness to these small-business owners, who are the lifeblood of our city, while at the same time maintaining safety standards."
The announcement follows up on campaign promises made by Mayor Bill de Blasio to ease burdens on small businesses — especially weighty fines.
The city's health inspection system faced scrutiny and criticism since former Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted its launch four years ago and praised again months before leaving office.
"Those that don’t want to clean up their kitchen, I know why they’re bitching," Bloomberg said of upset restaurant owners. "But I would suggest don't eat in a restaurant unless they have an 'A.'"
The city most recently reported reported that 88 percent of New York Cityrestaurants have an A grade, with the number of restaurants with B dropping to 10 percent and C grades to 2 percent.
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter @chestersoria