Licenses to run mobile home parks in Eau Claire County will cost significantly more in 2020 as a result of increased health inspections at those areas in recent years.
A 58% cost increase in annual licenses for owners of mobile home parks was approved by the Board of Health in late August in an effort to recover the Eau Claire City-County Health Department’s rising costs for inspecting the condition of those properties.
“It would be over four years that activity has increased in the mobile home communities,” said Marisa Stanley, assistant director of the health department. The increase is based on the department’s costs for conducting mobile home park inspections from 2016 up through projections for the end of this year.
Costs of annual mobile home park licenses vary depending on the number of units in them. For example, the $574 license to run a park with 21 to 50 sites is growing to $907 next year.
The Board of Health did consider what the higher cost would mean to tenants, should park owners pass the whole increase along to them, Stanley said. In the above scenario, that would add 56 cents to $1.32 per month to a resident’s rent.
The higher fees are intended to better cover costs of inspections at the parks that focus on their roads, infrastructure and other responsibilities of the landowners.
The health department conducts these inspections on behalf of the state Department of Safety and Professional Services, which allows local officials to recoup 75% of the their costs through fees.
While exterior conditions of mobile homes are noted in the inspection, Stanley said any investigation into the interiors of dwellings are covered by a different inspection that is not funded by the license fee.
A mobile home park that got a significant amount of attention for more than a year was Maples Mobile Home Park, 1611 Western Ave.
The park had 51 units in summer 2018, but is now down to 21 as many have been placarded as unsafe for human habitation.
The full brunt of the department’s time spent at Maples was not included in the fee hike to prevent it from going even higher.
“We knew we were spending more time in one specific park but didn’t want that cost to go to all other communities,” Stanley said.
And the fee increases are not due just to Maples, she said, as there have been inspections at other parks in recent years after the department received complaints. There are 17 mobile home parks in the county.
Advocates for affordable housing applauded the increased inspections at mobile home parks where some low-income families live because their options for housing are limited due to their household budgets.
“I’m encouraged that the health department recognizes that these communities need closer scrutiny, and that landlords should be held responsible for the conditions of their properties,” Judi Moseley, co-chairwoman of the affordable housing task force within grassroots group JONAH, said in an email.
Park owners may add the $1 increase to their tenants’ rent based on the license fee hike, she said, but she hopes they would not use it as an excuse to make larger price hikes.
In addition to raising the cost of a mobile home park license, the health department also increased both a one-time fee and a punitive fee.
The preinspection fee — charged when opening a new mobile home park or transferring ownership of an existing one — is going up between 78% to 96% depending on how large the property is. That fee now is $245 for a park with 21 to 50 sites and will rise to $454 next year.
If a mobile home park operates without a license, the fee for that violation is increasing between 68% and 75% depending on the park’s size. Now at $1,065 for mobile home communities with 21 to 50 sites, that fine is rising to $1,814 next year.
There is the potential that the mobile home park fees could decline in future years if the amount of inspections at them drops.
The fees decreased in 2018 and this year. Next year’s annual license fees are slightly lower than what they were in 2017.
The Board of Health approved its 2020 fees during its Aug. 28 meeting, allowing the department to have a good projection of its revenues for next year before the city and county governments approve their budgets.
“We do take a close look at them annually to make sure we are covering costs, but being reasonable as well,” Stanley said of the fees.
Many health department fees are staying put and others will have slight increases.
A new arrival to the health department’s fee schedule is intended to capture federal health care dollars for a program that previously relied on local taxes.
“It’s a new mechanism for us to help recoup the costs of the services provided,” Stanley said.
The program tests for lead in family homes with the goal of reducing children’s exposure to the harmful metal.
The new fees are $820 for investigating a home with suspected lead, $320 for a follow-up investigation after cleanup efforts and $160 for in-home lead education visit from a public health nurse.
People who use the program wouldn’t pay for it out of their own pockets, Stanley said, but the department would bill Medicaid for providing those services.