(Michael Chamberlain/Nevada Business Coalition) – The worst recession in memory continues in Nevada with recent reports revealing the jobless rate in Las Vegas increased in May, rising to 12.4%.
With so much uncertainty and so many people out of work, government should re-evaluate its role to see how it can help facilitate business development – help to cut costs and eliminate red tape. Unfortunately Clark County appears to have precisely the opposite view, taking the opportunity to increase the costs and burdens on businesses and charitable organizations.
As have many others, the restaurant industry has been hit hard by this recession. When times get tough one of the first things people reduce or cut from their budgets is eating out. In order to attract and retain customers restaurants have been forced to cut prices.
They have been caught in a vice of reduced demand forcing lower prices on one side and increased costs on the other. Food prices have been increasing, on both the retail and wholesale level. With fuel costs rising, many suppliers have been adding fuel surcharges to their deliveries, further raising restaurants’ costs.
What has the County done to, um, help? Recently the Clark County Fire Department issued revised permitting requirements to comply with the 2005 Fire Code. These requirements, which apply to a range of businesses but specifically mention restaurants, may add tremendous additional costs.
CCFD regulations require the operators of many buildings that will accommodate more than 50 people to obtain a Places of Assembly permit from the CCFD, which must be renewed each year.
The permit itself costs as little as $75.00 – not a major expense although yet another example of the nickel-and-diming local businesses are forced to endure – but that is far from the worst of it. The revised standards require a package of submittals to obtain the permit. These must include floor plans, drawn to scale, that must contain the locations of tables, chairs, decorations, stages, curtains and drapes. In addition the plans must provide information regarding the sizes of all exits and calculations for the exit flow.
For even the smallest places these plans can cost several hundred dollars. For larger establishments they can run into the thousands. One restaurant owner received quotes starting at $15,000. And it can be even worse.
Businesses whose original construction plans or plans for renovations are on file with the County may be able to use the existing drawings and avoid having to produce new plans. However, many of those drawings are likely to be missing required items, such as the locations of decorations. In those cases, new plans would be required. If the locations of any of those elements had changed, revised plans also would have to be submitted.
In addition, there have been several code changes in recent years. The 2005 Fire Code revisions contain a number of them, some of which affect the documents required for the Places of Assembly submittals. What of those businesses that were built to code when constructed but, because of the changes, may no longer be in compliance? Will they be grandfathered in or be forced to bring themselves up to the current code?
Renovations to ensure compliance with the current codes can be enormously expensive – costing thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars. At a time of rising costs combined with falling prices and customer counts, this alone could be enough to spell the end of some restaurants.
There is even a fair amount of ambiguity regarding which sorts of entities fall under this new policy. According to the document’s scope, the new requirements apply to places “such as Showrooms, Lounges, Nightclubs, Restaurants, Convention Areas, etc.”
As if the “etc.” didn’t leave enough to the imagination the scope also states the requirements apply to buildings where 50 or more people can gather “for purposes such as civic, social or religious functions, recreation, food or drink consumption or awaiting transportation”.
Are churches required to comply with this directive? The reference to “religious functions” seems to indicate they are.
What about schools? And civic organizations, such as Elks Lodges and VFW halls?
For many non-profit and charitable organizations, these costs could be devastating – thousands of dollars just for the necessary documents, not to mention any renovations that may be required. These are thousands of dollars less each of them will have to help the poor and the sick and our veterans.
The new policy may have a worthwhile purpose. The CCFD wants to have these plans available if they are ever called to one of these establishments to fight a fire or address another type of emergency situation and need information to develop their strategy. However, the costs to businesses and charities of complying with this new policy can be extremely burdensome, possibly even fatal to some.
The guidelines require plans to be submitted on paper rather than on disc or other electronic medium. Once received, what’s to prevent these plans from merely accumulating in some filing cabinet to gather dust?
Nevada Restaurant Association President Katherine Jacobi has attempted to obtain clarifications about this directive from the CCFD but the responses have invariably referred her back to the document itself, the very source of the ambiguity. She has a meeting with a representative of the CCFD scheduled for the end of this month in which she hopes to have some light shed on the new regulations.
And what of the other businesses and entities that may have to comply with these new requirements? At this point, are we really sure how they will be affected, or even who all of those required to comply are? Not really.
The County and the CCFD need to look at this policy and evaluate it taking into account the financial and other burdens it will place on the entities forced to comply. It does no one any good to have detailed information on a business or a charity that has been forced to close.
(Michael Chamberlain is Executive Director of Nevada Business Coalition.)