Ordering a taco or a hamburger from a truck parked at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus or on Hertel Avenue might seem like a simple transaction.
But before that truck can sell anything, there are rules to follow and fees to be paid.
Owners of nine food trucks are seeking relief from the city’s $1,000 annual permit fee, but the fee will likely stay the same for first-time truck owners, said North Council Member Joseph Golombek, who has taken up the issue in the Common Council.
The Council is considering reducing the permit fee to approximately $750 for trucks that have already paid the $1,000 fee once under terms of an extension to the ordinance governing food trucks, which ends April 1. But truck owners are asking that the initial fee be lowered to $300 to $400 and that renewal fees not exceed $250. In exchange, they are not asking for changes to their operating rules.
“Buffalo should not be accruing profits to city coffers by assessing onerous fees upon the backs of small independent start-up businesses,” wrote Mitchell M. Stenger, a lawyer representing the Western New York Food Truck Association, in a letter to Golombek.
Truck owners are seeking changes for several reasons, one being that suburban communities are establishing their own fees and rules and will likely look at what Buffalo has done, Stenger said.
Debate about the trucks was heated leading up to passage of the original ordinance by the Council in January 2012. Golombek is hesitant to make many changes because of the competing interests surrounding the issue, including those of established restaurants, he said.
“Both sides will not be thrilled with this, but neither side will be unhappy with this either,” he said.
The debate could reach Council chambers Tuesday, depending on how far negotiations progress. Stenger’s letter to Golombek is part of the agenda for the Legislation Committee, which meets at 2 p.m. It’s possible the Council could approve new terms before the ordinance ends on April 1, Golombek said.
The trucks are also asking that if a mobile food vending business owns more than one truck, that the business is not charged more than $500 per year.
It is the city’s intention, however, to assess each truck a permit fee, meaning a business that wants a permit for two new trucks would have to pay $2,000, Golombek said.
The coalition is not asking for changes to the rule that prohibits them from being within 100 feet of an open kitchen, though Stenger noted that some cities have no such restrictions.
The Council is also considering a change to allow trucks into Canalside, though they would not be permitted there during special events, and the 100-foot rule would still apply.
Canalside is now under the oversight of Buffalo Place, which has different vending rules, and charges the trucks typically more than $1,000 in additional fees to operate at assigned locations.
Truck owners are also seeking to negotiate with Buffalo Place for better terms, as current fees and rules prohibit many trucks from operating downtown, Stenger said.