The Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition, which is housed at and coordinated by NCAT, is following proposed fee increases by the Department of Livestock (DOL) that could negatively impact small dairy producers and processors in Montana.  The department has proposed amending ARM 32.2.406 to almost double the inspection fee per 100 pounds of milk and increase the minimum monthly charge from $50 to $225.  Fees for dairy processors are also included, with a minimum monthly charge of $725 and a maximum of $2,850.  The economic impact on small dairy businesses could be severe.        

DOL published the proposed change early in November 2015 and stated it would take public comment through December 10, 2015.  Originally, DOL did not schedule a public hearing on the rule change.  However, as producers began to mobilize against the increased fees, DOL revised its schedule and decided to hold two public events—a town-hall style meeting in Bozeman and an official hearing in Helena.

The Bozeman meeting happened in mid-December.  DOL explained to attendees that state law requires it to charge its licensees to cover the cost of inspections, and the department is trying to reduce a $130,000 deficit in its inspection budget.  At the meeting, producers of all sizes said they thought it was unfair that they shouldered all the financial burden for inspections.  Many in attendance encouraged DOL to advocate for policy changes that would allow at least some of the inspection budget to come from Montana’s General Fund, since the need for health and safety inspections is a public health issue.  Other states use general funds in this way.

Grow Montana submitted a letter to DOL outlining the coalition’s concerns that the proposed changes could result in smaller dairy operations having to shut down.  In its “Notice of Proposed Amendment,” DOL conceded as much, stating “the fee increase in the proposed amendment may significantly and directly impact some small businesses.”  Furthermore, the department stated, “Small businesses in the early growth stage will be especially impacted.”  Grow Montana also suggested DOL explore policy changes that could make more of the inspection budget come from the state’s General Fund and offered its help to the agency in this pursuit.

There is still time to let DOL know how you feel about the proposed changes.  If you would be impacted by an increase in these fees, or just want to weigh in, you have two options.  The first is attending the public hearing in Helena:

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Scott Hart Building
302 N. Roberts
Helena
10:00 a.m.

If you cannot attend the public hearing, please submit comments to the department at MDOLcomments@mt.gov.  DOL is now taking comments through February 5, 2016.  In preparing your remarks, please think about the following:

  • Provide real numbers on how the change in fees will impact your business.
  • Encourage the department to explore other options to fund its inspection budget, including working with the Governor’s Office and/or the Economic Affairs Interim Committee to identify alternative streams of funding.
  • Remind the department that inspections are a public health issue impacting all Montanans, meaning some funding should come from the General Fund instead of placing the entire burden on the dairy industry.