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Wednesday, 19 July 2017 13:36

Sylva passes food truck rules

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Sylva’s proposed food truck ordinance passed unanimously at the town meeting July 13, one year after the town board began researching the topic in the wake of Waynesville’s food truck woes.

“This is good for us that we have an ordinance for food trucks and itinerant vending, and we’ll see how that goes,” Mayor Lynda Sossamon said after the vote. “I’m proud of us for doing that.”

Only one person spoke during the public hearing preceding the vote — food truck owner Curt Collins, of Brew Dawgz — but he had some issues with the ordinance.

“It’s just a lot of money going into the town of Sylva, and I have to make sure I have money coming into my pocket to cover these costs,” Collins told town commissioners.

The ordinance would require food truck and food cart operators to pay a $100 permit fee every six months, with an additional fee required to sell food at special town events. Event fees vary — it’s $25 per Concerts on the Creek concert but $75 for the Fourth of July, for example. Operators would also have to pay a $45 zoning fee to have their location approved by the Jackson County Planning Department, which contracts with the town of Sylva for planning and zoning services.

Currently, Collins said, the highest fee he pays is a $120 annual fee to the state — under the new ordinance, he’d be paying the town $80 above that amount to operate year-round, in addition to the state fee.

“It’s not a high revenue-generating business,” Collins said. “It’s a chance to become self-employed … for me that’s a lot of money right now.”

Commissioners appeared to be sympathetic to Collins’ concerns but ultimately ended up passing the ordinance.

Having some rules in place protects the town and protects existing vendors from finding themselves in competition with 15 other food trucks flocking to Sylva upon discovering its rules to be much laxer than those in other nearby towns, said Commissioner Greg McPherson.

“If there’s something that needs to happen after this passes tonight, we can tweak it later,” McPherson said.

Commissioner David Nestler, meanwhile, advocated for removing or reducing the permit fees.

“I get the need to regulate food trucks, absolutely, and there’s a lot of really good requirements in here and I think they’re all reasonable,” he said. “But I will say you can require all this stuff that we’re requiring in here without requiring that they purchase a permit to do it.”

Sossamon disagreed.

“I think for our own safety as a town — this permit says that we’ve checked and they’ve gone through all the steps and they’re cleared by us to have their truck in town,” Sossamon said. “That’s the only thing. If we don’t issue a permit we don’t have any recourse.”

And if a permit is required, the town is a bit stuck on the fee, said Town Clerk Amanda Murjada — the ordinance would classify food truck operators as itinerant merchants, and the fees for itinerant merchants are set by the state.

Both Commissioners Barbara Hamilton and Harold Hensley seemed to feel that the fees are reasonable.

“All the other eating establishments, they’re having to pay taxes,” Hamilton said.

“Every business in town pays money in order to have the privilege of operating in town,” added Hensley. “You have the police, you have the fire department — all that’s got to be taken care of.”

Nestler wound up voting for the ordinance along with the rest of the board but maintained his reticence at requiring all of the fees listed in it.

McPherson suggested that the town could “throw in a bone” and nix requiring a separate permit for special events for food truck owners who already have a town permit, and Nestler asked whether the $100 permit could be good for one year rather than six months.

“I just feel like we’re tacking on a lot, but I understand everybody’s point,” he said.

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