Food truck rules gain traction in Milton

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, June 3, 2014

MILTON—Mobile food trucks could become a fixture in Milton, but the city council wants to find ways to regulate them without stepping on fresh produce farmers' toes.

Most on the council on Tuesday favored a draft ordinance that would set regulations and a permit fee for food trucks and carts to operate in public parking lots and parks. But the council kicked the ordinance back to committee, asking city staff to tweak it to exclude fresh produce sellers from having to pay mobile vendor fees.

As drafted, mobile food vendors—including food trucks, carts and “other non-moveable permanent structures”—would have to pay a $300, six-month permit fee or $500 to operate year-round. That is on top of hundreds more the vendors would have to pay in county and state fees for health department permits.

The ordinance would set a framework for regulating mobile vendors. Milton doesn't currently have an ordinance covering them, which means they're not prohibited but they are unregulated.

Fees for the vendors would have to be approved later as a separate ordinance, and they could be amended later, City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said.

Milton doesn't have a farmers market, but it does have a handful of produce vendors who have sold their goods in the city.

Council members on Tuesday voiced concern that the ordinance would chase away farm produce sellers. Council member Don Vruwink said he thought the ordinance could curb anyone from wanting to start up a farmers market on public property.

“If they pay (a farmers market) for a spot, and then they have to pay a $300 city fee, they won't come.” Vruwink said. “I don't want to ever hinder a farmers market. If this ordinance does that, I don't want anything to do with it.”

Council member Nancy Lader asked if city staff could make changes to the ordinance that would exclude produce sellers from mobile vendor rules she said she assumed were designed for food and ice cream trucks. She and others council members also asked city staff to make sure the ordinance didn't apply to special events.

The ordinance already exempts nonprofits and nonprofit events that last fewer than 72 hours.

City attorney Mark Schroeder said he could rework the ordinance to exclude agricultural produce sellers. Schuetz suggested the city could create a separate ordinance for produce sellers.

 Schroeder said staff likely would make the changes in time for a second review by the city's personnel and finance committee and a potential council vote June 17.

The ordinance

Under the ordinance, vendors would have to fill out applications with site plans showing which public lots or park areas they would sell from. A review panel of city staff then would review those plans and decide whether the spots had ample parking and lighting or posed any safety hazards.

Vendors could sell from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and the city has proposed no cap on the number of food trucks and carts it would allow.

Council member Dave Adams has opposed the city welcoming mobile vendors since the issue first came up in 2012. He has argued mobile vendors have an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar businesses because they can move around and have less costs tied to overhead.

Tuesday, he said he thinks the city is proposing special rules for a “preferential” group of businesses.

“I don't think it's a good move. You'll regret it down the road,” he said.

Mike Jacobson, who owns the Junction Pub in the Merchant Row business district, voiced concerns about mobile vendors that brick-and-mortar business owners have brought up in the past.

Jacobson told the council he is a property tax payer, and if a handful of mobile vendors began congregating in his business district, the competition could hurt his business.  

“I might not be a taxpayer anymore. I could become an empty building,” he said.

Kim Moistner-Bartlett, who operates Kona Ice, a mobile shaved-ice franchise out of Janesville, urged the council to move ahead with an ordinance.

Moistner-Bartlett said she sells mainly at special events, but if Milton had a permit process in place, she'd probably sell at the splash park on the east side.

Mayor Brett Frazier took a straw poll Tuesday, asking council members to raise their hands without comment if they supported a permit process and regulations for mobile food vendors. 

Two members, Adams and Theresa Rusch, did not raise their hands.

Last updated: 10:19 pm Tuesday, June 3, 2014

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