The Forest Hills American Legion is facing some steep fines and is considering selling the Legion Hall building to stay in operation.
According to Legion Commander Tom Long, the group has faced a series of escalating fines since 2009, when they received citations as an operating restaurant.
As an establishment that serves drinks and food to its members, the Legion Hall has to live up to the same strict health codes as any restaurant in the city.
“The fine is something like $42,000 and this all started with $2,000 worth of fines,” Long said. “We may be forced to put our building up for sale, and we hope it doesn't come to that.”
The citations received by the group included improperly cleaned food preparation surfaces, absence of a trained supervisor, expired licenses and obstruction of a health inspection.
The last one, Long said, was the result of a miscommunication after an inspector asked Legion members to open their hall’s rifle closet. The key is not kept on the premises for safety reasons. As a result, the Legion Hall was fined.
The Legion Hall received a C grade from the city in its most recent inspection in December of last year.
The commander said that he was advised not to pay the fines when they were first accrued in the hopes of working out a plan to have them reversed, only to have non-payment fees build up and double the amount due many times over.
“It’s like if you don’t pay a parking ticket, it just keeps going up,” he added.
The Department of Health said no group in the city that runs a food-service establishment is immune to fines and citations, whether they’re open to the general public or not.
“The American Legion is full of heroes who put their lives on the line to defend democracy, but they must still have a permit, allow inspections and pay fines,” a spokesperson for the department said.
Earlier this month, the Legion held a fundraiser to cobble together the money to pay the fines, and made enough to pay the original amount. After a meeting with the Department of Health, Long hopes that the situation can be resolved soon, but admits there’s no real timetable.
“We are still planning for our future, we didn't put our heads in the sand,”
Long said. “Hopefully in two weeks we'll have a better handle of what's going to happen here, I’m optimistic that this will be resolved.”
The fines even threatened the group’s traditional Memorial Day parade, though he added that private donors have stepped in to ensure that the parade will still be held on Metropolitan Avenue this year.