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DeKalb approves hotel inspection program

DeKALB – Off-duty DeKalb firefighters could begin inspecting local hotels and motels this week as the city prepares to host its first IHSA State Football Championship in late November.

With some resistance from hotel owners, the City Council unanimously approved an annual inspection and licensing program Monday for all six DeKalb hotels and their combined 398 rooms. Details were outlined in Chapter 55 of the city’s hotel code, and the program will apply to any future hotels and motels, too.

“It sounds like, by the end of this week, they could begin activity on those inspections,” Mayor John Rey said after the meeting. “Clearly, one of our concerns was to address those cleanliness and hospitality issues in the hotels and motels prior to guests and visitors arriving in our community.”

City staff worked with the DeKalb Fire Department to come up with a set of guidelines for the inspections, which will include fire and electrical safety standards, interior and exterior sanitary requirements and licensing rules. The annual inspections will be completed by off-duty DeKalb firefighters for at least this year.

“Realistically, we have the proposed guidelines, and we have three personnel that are trained and ready to start,” City Attorney Dean Frieders said. “... Our intention is to start as soon as possible and work with the hotels to address any issues that are out there.”

City leaders halved the fee amounts for this year after council members reviewed the proposal Sept. 9, but that didn’t address all of hotel owners’ concerns.

“I don’t even think the money was as much of an issue,” said Vicky Torres, the general manager of the DeKalb Best Western. “... I just think it’s the organization of the plan.”

The fees associated with the inspections program are intended to offset the cost of the inspections and are tied to the number of rooms. Next year, the fees will return to the full level of $720 a year for the smallest to $1,700 for the largest current hotels in DeKalb.

Hotel owners voiced concerns for customers that stay longer than 30 days, but Frieders said the new ordinance wouldn’t affect such stays.

“The ordinance does not intend to prohibit [long-term stays],” he said. “What the ordinance does intend to prohibit is adverse public consequences that can occur when those long-term stays occur without minimum sanitation standards being met.”

Rey, 3rd Ward Alderwoman Kristen Lash and 5th Ward Alderman Ron Naylor agreed with 4th Ward Alderman Bob Snow that the inspection program will be reviewed and could be tweaked after the initial round.

“I think we need to inspect the hotels/motels this year, find out what kind of shape they’re in, and then I would ask staff to come back after the initial inspections and give a report to council,” Snow said. “Then we can sit down with the hotel managers and maybe work out a more effective procedure.”

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