Hillsboro street and safety committee members Adam Wilkin, left, and Brandon Leeth are pictured during their July 29 meeting. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro street and safety committee members Adam Wilkin, left, and Brandon Leeth are pictured during their July 29 meeting. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Representatives from several local food trucks met with members of the Hillsboro street and safety committee and other city officials Wednesday, July 29 for the third of at least four planned meetings to discuss revisions to the city’s ordinance for mobile food vendors.

At their second meeting, committee members Adam Wilkin and Patty Day began discussing possible updates to the ordinance, as committee member Brandon Leeth was absent. During their third meeting Wednesday, Day was absent, but Wilkin, the committee chair, updated Leeth on the committee’s ideas thus far. Leeth, along with food truck owners, provided feedback on several topics from that previous meeting.

During their previous meeting, Day said that she was not opposed to food trucks but expressed “concern” about the appearance and possible safety issues with food trucks set up in the historic uptown district, as she brought up at the first meeting. Wilkin told the food truck owners Wednesday that Day “is all for the food trucks” and that he doesn’t believe that the committee’s changes “will affect anything in the historic district.”

• One of the major issues discussed by the committee — and the reason why Wilkin said he planned to have another committee meeting before taking proposed changes to council — is regarding taxes paid by food truck vendors.

Although at their previous meeting Wilkin pointed out that it isn’t council’s job to enforce tax payments, Day had said that the city “isn’t getting tax funds” from the food vendors. Safety and service director Brianne Abbott and council president Tom Eichinger said that they do receive income taxes from the food trucks.

“I would assume that if you guys work in the city of Hillsboro, you have to pay income taxes for when you work in town,” Wilkin told the vendors Wednesday. “I don’t know how you guys keep track of that.”

Some food truck owners said that they also weren’t sure how taxes were assessed.

“Everyone who works in the city of Hillsboro has to pay city income tax,” Leeth said.

One food truck vendor said he thought the $200 fee was partially due to the city not receiving tax from the food trucks, which is what Day had also thought, as mentioned at their previous meeting.

“To come into the city, this $200 fee is what it’s going to cost you to do business here,” Leeth said. “What I could see doing is anyone who registers, we’re going to send you the tax form. Everybody pays income taxes in Hillsboro that does business inside the city limits.”

Abbott agreed, saying that vendors should be required to “show proof that they’ve registered with our income tax office” when applying for a permit.

The safety and service director and committee members said that they would look into the matter further to clarify the income tax regulations for mobile food vendors.

“My hope tonight was to finish this whole debacle, but the taxes have brought forth a few questions that we just need to answer and get wrapped up before we bring anything before council,” Wilkin said.

The $200 fee, along with a proposed one-time fee, for the food truck vendors were also discussed. Under the current ordinance, the food trucks are required to have a permit, fill out the city application and pay the $200 fee, which is valid for a calendar year.

One food truck owner asked what the $200 fee covers, saying that if they can only sell food in the uptown district during city functions, they are “limited” in the number of days they can set up.

“What we’re working on is for you to be able to do that, most anytime you wanted to,” Wilkin said.

Abbott said that even if they are not setting up for city functions, “you still have to have a permit, the $200, if you’re on any private property within the city limits.”

“You’re not really limited, because any private property, you’re allowed to be there with permission,” she said. “City property in specific right now is only allowed at city events.”

Abbott also clarified that as long as a food vendor has a permit, they don’t have to obtain permission from the city to set up on a private property anywhere else.

Wilkin told Leeth that they were also considering giving vendors an option for a one-time fee, as proposed at the previous meeting. Wilkin suggested a $100 fee for those wanting to set up in Hillsboro “on a per-day basis.”

“I see that because not everybody’s going to be here all the time,” Leeth said. “The nice thing is if we do have the $200 fee for the whole entire year, that’s going to make people — common sense would say ‘in order for me to get my money back, I want to come here five times.’ But I think that’s perfectly fine.”

A vendor suggested setting up a permit process for a five- or 10-year plan instead of doing one calendar year at a time, which would “guarantee” their business. In return, they suggested giving them a discount, “even if it’s $50 off a year, because we’re willing to pay that upfront cost to you.”

“Well, I don’t know if that would be in the best interest of the city,” Wilkin said. “It would be in your best interest.”

Several vendors said it would “show an investment” in the city.

“As it stands right now, I don’t see the city changing the fee from $200,” Wilkin said. “I know it’s more than some places, but it’s less than other places.”

• The committee wants to eliminate the current ordinance’s stipulation that “Mobile food vehicles shall not open for business within 200 feet of an established restaurant or similar food service provider.”

“That sounds good to me,” Leeth said. “If a local shop owner or store owner wants you all to be in their parking lot, somebody might throw a fit, ‘hey, you’ve got to be 200 feet’ when no, they gave you the OK. Frankly, I don’t really think that the 200-foot rule should be there at all.

“If you guys get approval and there’s no nuisance being created, why can’t you go anywhere?”

One food truck owner asked who currently enforces that regulation. Wilkin said that neighboring restaurant owners “might say something,” while Abbott said that code enforcement officers and police officers could approach them with concerns.

“They’re not necessarily going to shut you down, but they may say that you’re in violation of the ordinance,” Abbott said.

One vendor said that a police officer has stopped them before to check to see if they have a permit, while another asked if the vendors could receive a proof of permit certificate from the city, with the dates of their permit, to display on their mobile food units.

“That would be good,” Wilkin said.

• At their previous meeting, the committee also discussed making a list of city-owned properties for food truck vendors to reference. Wilkin, Leeth and Abbott went into more detail on that suggestion Wednesday.

“I think you guys would kind of come up with a list of locations that you think would be suitable, and we could keep that list in our office,” Abbott said. She added that city administrative assistants could keep a “calendar so we’re not double-booked” on food trucks in a certain location.

Under the current ordinance, food trucks are only allowed to set up at city-owned locations for events sanctioned by the city, such as in front of the former Hillsboro firehouse or the Colony Park. Other possible city-owned locations discussed previously were Liberty Park; the Railroad Street park and the former Parker Hotel site, once they are cleaned up; and the city lot across from Hillsboro Church of Christ.

“We want to come up a pretty big list of places you guys can go,” Wilkin told the food truck owners.

The food truck owners asked if they could set up at Liberty Park and Shaffer Park during youth sports events. Leeth said that Liberty Park’s soccer and football programs run their concessions stands, and public works superintendent Shawn Adkins said that Shaffer Park leases their concession stand and “bid out” the food services.

Adkins added that although it’s city property, “the whole area” of Shaffer Park, including the parking lots, are under Bruce Davis’ jurisdiction. Abbott said that food truck owners could still reach out to Davis to seek permission to set up at Shaffer Park.

Adkins suggested reaching out to the SAY soccer and pee-wee football programs to discuss setting up at Liberty Park during their games. When they do not have games going on, food trucks can set up at Liberty Park, with permission from Abbott, under the proposed revision to the ordinance.

“Is there any city property not in the historic district that food trucks could go to on a cruising night?” Wilkin asked.

Adkins suggested the parking lot across from the Hillsboro Church of Christ. During their previous meeting, Abbott and mayor Justin Harsha said that they thought they should seek permission from the church to allow food trucks there. Adkins clarified Wednesday that the city does own that lot and doesn’t believe they would need “dual permission” from the city and the church.

“The city parking lot right across from the church, that’s right in the cruising circle,” Adkins said.

Leeth and Adkins said that the church only has an agreement for the lot during church events. “It’s in our name,” Adkins added. “We maintain it.”

The committee was also asked whether the city owned the former rest stop on US 50 west of Hillsboro.

“It’s owned by the Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation, and it’s outside the city limits,” Abbott said. “You would need permission from the CIC.”

• During their previous meeting, Abbott said that the peddlers and solicitors code requires a background check. She asked if that was “really necessary” for food truck vendors, although the safety and service director said she believed it should be required for peddlers and solicitors “going door-to-door.”

Wilkin asked the food truck owners in attendance if a background check was required by the state or other communities. One said that Hillsboro was the only city that made them undergo a background check.

“Does the state require you to have it to have your food vending permit?” Leeth asked. After several food truck owners said “no,” Leeth said, “If the state doesn’t require it, then why in the world would we?”

Wilkin said they can “do away with any of that nonsense.”

In addition to discussing proposed ordinance changes, several food truck owners and committee members asked questions throughout the meeting, including:

• Whether setting up on sidewalks outside privately owned businesses constituted being on city property. The food truck owners were advised to set up in parking lots if there is a question of whether the business owns the sidewalk area.

• Whether smaller food vendors, such as hot dog carts, can set up on sidewalks in the uptown area. Abbott said that was fine, as long as the city grants approval. The current ordinance reads that “sidewalk carts permitted for that purpose shall not be so situated as to cause congestion that impedes pedestrian or vehicular traffic, or interfere with city or public use of rights-of-way, including the operations associated with the mobile food vehicle such as signage, customer queues or accessories that restricts access to parking or pedestrian or vehicular travel.”

• Wilkin asked where “the historic district begins and the county property ends” for the area around the Highland County Courthouse and Highland County Administration Building, including the fountain on the courthouse lawn.

Adkins said “the only parking spot the county owns” is the lot behind the Hillsboro Eagles. “Everything on the street is public parking,” he said.

For smaller carts around the Highland County Courthouse, the Highland County commissioners can grant approval, but there is also an issue of potentially “blocking pedestrian traffic” there.

“It’s tricky,” Abbott said. “They haven’t adopted our historic district guidelines.

“We don’t necessarily have jurisdiction over that. It is in the city limits, but it’s county property.”

“But don’t we control the sidewalks, to a certain degree, within the city?” Wilkin asked. “Do we own the sidewalks?”

Adkins said that “the property owners own the sidewalks,” and the county maintains the sidewalks on Governor Foraker and Governor Trimble.

Wilkin said that appears that “little bubble” around the courthouse for smaller carts would be up to the commissioners to determine.

• There were also a question as to whether smaller carts can set up in parking spots like a larger food truck, and then “serving off the sidewalk,” as some of the food trucks and trailers have done uptown.

Leeth asked if carts should have separate language in the ordinance, since “you’re not going to pull a trailer up on a sidewalk.”

On the other hand, it was also pointed out that some food trucks are larger and take up multiple spaces, with trailers, tents and serving areas. One food truck owner asked them to make sure that is “part of your consideration,” since they take up multiple parking spaces for “just a matter of hours” when they set up in the uptown district.

Wilkin said that he didn’t think they were looking into limiting the number of parking spaces per vendor. “We’re going to try to come up with locations that are big enough for anybody that wants to pull in there,” he said.

Wilkin said that he hopes to schedule another meeting “pretty soon” to finalize their proposed revisions, so “we can wrap it up and bring something before council.” On Thursday, it was announced that the committee plans to meet Aug. 10 at 6:30 p.m., prior to the regular city council meeting.

For more on the committee’s previous meetings on mobile food vendors, click the links below.