Columbus now has an ordinance regulating food trucks.
It passed unanimously, and with no discussion, during the council’s Tuesday meeting. It goes into effect Jan. 5.
Building Official Kenny Wiegel said the city looked at several from the surrounding area, as well as taking to the internet, to develop the ordinance.
“We looked at the ones in Amory and in Tupelo,” he said. “We also found a generic one on the internet, and it was actually the one we liked the best.”
Columbus’ ordinance was made of pieces of all of them, he said.
The ordinance requires food trucks to get a permit, which costs $100 and is good for a year. Applications must be submitted to the city Building/Zoning Department on a form provided by that office. Operators must also have a valid city privilege license and approval from the city fire marshal’s office, and a current food service permit from the Mississippi State Department of Health.
Food trucks are barred from operating on public property without special permission from the city. They may also be invited to do so as part of special events, such as the United Way fundraiser held at the Hitching Lot Farmers Market earlier this year.
When on private property, food trucks must obtain written permission from the property owner. A consent form is available from the city.
Trucks are also barred from setting up within 200 feet of “any restaurant operating at a permanent fixed location” without written permission from the restaurant, he said. Food trucks may only be in commercial zones.
Any food truck operators coming to Columbus from out of town must also abide by the same regulations, including getting a permit, Wiegel said.
Violations carry a $150 fine for a first offense; a $250 fine for a second violation within one year; and a $500 fine for three or more violations within a year of the first. The city may also suspend or revoke the permit.
When asked about the ordinance, Randy Vanegas, who, along with his wife, Isabel, owns the Taco Amigo, said he “could understand where the city was coming from” but also said the city should think about the environment it creates for other operators.
“It depends on whether they want to be more receptive (to food trucks) or drive them out,” Vanegas said. “Tupelo has a dedicated person who just deals with food trucks. They are a lot more receptive, and they’ve contacted us and invited us up there. They wanted their fire marshal to do an inspection (of the truck), and I told them I would have to close for the day to come up there, and they offered to just talk to the fire marshal here and get the information that way. They just want trucks up there.”
He also contrasted fees locally with what Tupelo charged.
“Starkville, the permit costs $100,” he said. “In Aberdeen it’s $200. In Tupelo it’s $25. It’s not worth it to pay for a permit if I’m only going to be there for a day or a couple of times a month.”
David Wilkerson, who owns Starkville-based Blue Plate Mafia, on the other hand, is fine with the city’s requirements. He said that he had only been to Columbus to cater events, but he would like to come over and serve outside of that setting.
“I don’t think the fee is outlandish,” he said. “I think it’s more than fair.”
He also was fine with the buffer zone between food trucks and traditional restaurants.
“I think it keeps things fair,” he said. “We run a generator, and it’s loud. If I owned a restaurant I would want the common courtesy of not having that right off my patio.”