State cuts Value Motel fines due to financial woes

Embattled hotel says it made $3,100 profit over 30-month span

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The state Department of Labor & Industries is giving the Value Motel a break on its fines due to the business’ reported financial hardships — the owner says he made only $3,100 profit over a 30-month period.

A hearings officer reduced the $7,500 in health and safety fines to $3,000 and put the motel on a monthly payment plan to pay off the penalties.

The state imposed the fines after a health inspector and a safety inspector with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health conducted an inspection of the motel on June 1. The safety report included four “serious” violations totaling $1,500. The health report included eight serious violations totaling $6,000.

The reduction came after Haresh “Harry” Patel, who leases and operates the motel, appealed the state’s fines last month.

In his appeal letter to the state, Patel asked the state to reduce the fines since he took steps to immediately correct the violations and due to the economic hardship the fines would impose on the motel.

“The travel and lodging industry was one of the hardest hit by the economic downtown as many were quick to cut non-necessaries such as travel and leisure,” Patel wrote. “Our hotel has seen a sharp decline in business which has made it hard for us to meet our operational obligations. ... Also, the payment of a $6,000 penalty may detract from the funds available to improve our facilities for guests and employees.”

The Columbian’s request for comment from Patel was not returned Tuesday afternoon.

A hearings officer heard arguments from Patel and state officials on Aug. 17 and issued a decision late last week.

Patel filed a corporate financial information statement and asked for a financial hardship settlement agreement. An auditor with the Department of Labor & Industries reviewed the documents and required tax records Patel submitted.

The auditor determined that between Jan. 1, 2008 and July, 21, 2011, the employer — listed as NCM Management LLC, which is registered to Patel — had a net income of $3,137.

The auditor recommended the fines not exceed the business’ net income.

The hearings officer followed the recommendation and reduced the safety fines from $1,500 to $1,200 and the health fines from $6,000 to 1,800. Beginning Nov. 1, Patel must make monthly payments of $250 for the next 12 months to pay off the fines.

The Labor & Industries levies fines related to risks to employee health and safety.

Among the violations were failure to provide blood borne pathogen training to employees with occupational exposure, failing to make hepatitis B vaccines available to employees with exposure to blood borne pathogens, failing to handle regulated waste properly and safely, and allowing employees to clean a mice-infested laundry room without respiratory protection.

The fines and violations are not related to the Washington State Department of Health’s recent announcement that it intends to revoke the Value Motel’s operating license. That decision was based on risks to public health.

Milton O. Brown, owner of the Value Motel property, is currently appealing the state’s decision. The appeal hearing is scheduled for Jan. 3.

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com; 360-735-4546.