County motel operators have concerns about inspection cut

Owners and proprietors of the three motels in Marion County have some concerns about the announcement last week that the Kansas Depart?ment of Agriculture will temporarily suspend lodging inspections because of state budget cuts.

Frances Walls said she and husband Ed steadfastly maintain high standards as managers of the Country Inn in Hillsboro, but that might not be the case at every motel in the state.

?My concern would be if you have someone unscrupulous running a motel that would say if (inspectors are) not coming then it doesn?t matter,? Walls said.

?Hopefully, people are not like that,? she added. ?I hope it doesn?t have a negative effect on the hotel industry. Hopefully, everyone will feel like I do.?

Cynthia Draken, who manages the Hillcrest Motel in Hillsboro with husband Robert, fears not everyone will.

?If we?re not going to be inspected by anybody, I think it?s going to be a real concern because you?re going to find a lot of people who won?t do anything to try to keep the rooms clean,? she said.

KDA operations

The KDA licenses 825 lodging facilities that include hotels, motels, lodges and bed-and-breakfast operations. To be licensed, each facility must undergo and pass an inspection that focuses on safety and sanitation.

All facilities currently licensed have been inspected. Whether the department will be able to resume inspections will depend on future funding levels.

?This is the painful reality of our current economic climate,? said Josh Svaty, acting secretary of agriculture. ?Without adequate resources, we are forced to decide which services we can continue to provide and which ones we can?t.

?The cuts to our budget now mean that we won?t be able to inspect the safety and sanitation of Kansas? hotels, motels and other overnight lodges.?

Inspections welcomed

Contrary to the notion that life without inspectors might make their life easier, county motel proprietors said they would miss the annual surprise visits.

?Actually, I welcomed the inspections because there?s always something that you overlook and don?t realize it?and they might find it,? said Earl Hancock, who owns and operates Country Inn in Marion with wife Tina.

Hancock said on one occasion an inspector called his attention to a fire extinguisher that had passed its expiration date. On another occasion, he was informed of a recent change in state standards that he wouldn?t have known about otherwise.

?I, as a motel owner, cannot keep up with all of the laws and compliances,? Hancock said. ?A new one might have been passed last year and I would have no idea that it was.?

Added Draken: ?The only thing I don?t like about not being inspected is that we don?t know what?s wrong and needs to be fixed up.?

Hancock said he would prefer having fewer KDA inspections to having no inspections at all.

?I would hate to see them cut altogether,? he said. ?Maybe if they could come around every two or three years, OK. But to cut it completely, that would concern me with some places.?

Budget crunch

Svaty said his department has tried to avoid the decision.

?Like all state agencies, we have weathered our fair share of budget cuts,? he said. ?We are looking at funding levels we haven?t seen since 1997, and that means we are no longer able to conduct business as usual.

?We?re operating with one-quarter fewer employees and trying to sustain our core services, but we?ve reached the point where it?s no longer possible.?

In its latest allotment, the department?s state general funding was reduced by $303,000. The cost of operating the lodging inspection program runs about $240,000 a year.

Lodging facilities that have a food service operation, such as a cafe or restaurant that offers food for compensation, will continue to undergo food-safety inspections.

As of now, the state general fund portion of the department?s fiscal year 2010 budget is $9.8 million, which is $2.4 million less than was appropriated in fiscal year 2008.

The department is operating with 92 fewer employees through layoffs and unfilled vacancies. The number could grow to 100 in January as more layoffs are announced as a result of the latest cuts.

Advice for consumers

As for advice for consumers, the motel proprietors in Marion County agreed it?s always a good idea to ask to see the motel room you are offered before you finalize the arrangement.

?And then don?t be afraid to complain if there are problems that you didn?t notice,? Walls added.

Draken said she?s always happy to show the room to a potential client.

?I want them to be satisfied,? she said. ?If they?re not satisfied, I?m not going to sell that room.?

Hancock said the issue of no inspections is bigger than mere cleanliness.

?It?s very important, safety-wise?like fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and detectors,? he said. ?It could be a bad deal.

?I?m surprised they?re doing this. I think it?s important.?

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