The state Department of Agriculture proposes to raise hourly fees, selected unit fees, and to establish a sliding fee scale for export tonnage to offset increased Grain Inspection Program costs.

Comments on the proposal will be heard at 1 p.m. May 22 in Room 205 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia. Written comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. May 22.

The Grain Inspection Program is entirely supported by fees. Expenses to operate the program will increase beginning with the new fiscal year (July 1, 2001) due to higher employer insurance rates and cost-of-living salary increases approved by the Legislature. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has set new technology standards, effective May 2003, that will require funds to upgrade protein analyzers used for inspection services at eight offices.

"The additional revenue generated by the fee increase is estimated at $100,000 per year, if export volumes and service requests are consistent with totals seen in recent years," said Randy Deike, grain inspection program manager for the Department of Agriculture. "The additional revenue should allow the program to meet increased expenses without drawing from current program reserves." The reserve funds are intended to allow the program to meet obligations during periods of inactivity in the grain and commodity trade.

Some fees identified for adjustment in the proposal were last changed in 1984; others, including export tonnage fees, have been in place since 1994. Bagged commodity fees last increased in 1998, and hourly and submitted sample fees were last adjusted in 1999, according to Deike. The proposal includes a declining per ton export fee as an incentive for exporters that ship larger volumes. "Proposed increases are within the allowable growth rate limits established by Initiative 601," Deike added.

The hearing is wheelchair accessible. For materials in Braille or other formats, call 360/902-1976 or TDD 360/902-1996. For more information, or to submit comments, contact Randy Deike, grain inspection program manager, Washington State Department of Agriculture, PO Box 42560, Olympia, WA; telephone 360/902-1921; E-mail rdeike@agr.wa.gov, or FAX 360/902-2085.