After back and forth negotiation, council settles on flat fee for food trucks
A motion to override the mayor's veto on a tiered fee structure for mobile food units failed by one vote Monday night, setting off yet another back and forth negotiation over what the annual fee should be.
After four rounds of voting, the council decided on $1,250 per year in total fees. Council Members Ed Hruska and Mark Hickey voted against the compromise resolution, with Hruska suggesting the fee was too low and Hickey requesting the council take additional time to consider the options.
The council had passed the tiered fee structure — which would have started at $900 total for the first year, increased to $1,250 in year two, then hit a max of $1,500 in year three — by a 5-2 vote two weeks prior. But then 10 days later, Mayor Ardell Brede vetoed the provision, suggesting it was not fair to other businesses. "We don’t do that for a new restaurant or other business their first, 2nd and 3rd years," he said in a memo to the city clerk's office. "They pay full taxes year one. Why do we do it for food trucks?"
With Council Member Sandra Means absent from Monday's meeting, the council was not able to get the five votes needed to overturn the mayor's veto. Hruska and Council President Randy Staver sided with the mayor.
In the second round of voting, Hruska introduced a measure to begin with a flat fee of $1,500, the amount recommended by the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as the Rochester Downtown Alliance.
“I believe that if you got a solid business plan, you know what you’re doing, that shouldn’t — a couple hundred dollars — make the difference," said Hruska. "I don’t think we should try to fix a problem before we have a problem.”
But that motion failed, as did one introduced by Council Member Nick Campion for $1,000. The council ultimately settled on a flat fee of $1,250.
Campion said his goal with the tiered structure was only to get someone thinking about starting a "new style of business" to take that next step. “I am understanding of the mayor’s concern," he said. "It’s something we haven’t done before. I’m not completely tone deaf to the fairness issue.”
Already, one local operator, Derrick Chapman, owner of Twisted Barrel Wood Fired Pizza, said he would no longer be applying for a permit this season due to the increased fees approved at Monday's meeting. He had originally planned to set up downtown this summer after the tiered fee structure passed.
"A good portion of the season is going to be gone by the time they get everything figured out and you get inspections done," Chapman said, noting the new fee is higher than that of Minneapolis, a city four times the size of Rochester. "It's a cash flow issue. That's a huge check to write when you have bills to pay, people to hire and you need to stock product to sell."
At this point, it's unclear how many — if any — vendors will apply for a permit this late in the season. The council still needs to give the new regulations a second reading in June before the ordinance officially becomes law. The council has agreed to review the regulations at the end of the season to see if any adjustments need to be made.
(Cover graphic: The Med City Beat)