ST. PETE BEACH — Food truck vendors may soon feel more welcome in town after city commissioners reduce the first-year permit fee for them to serve residents.
While a formal hearing to change the city’s fee ordinance relating to food trucks will be considered at a later date, commissioners debated the move at their Nov. 12 meeting.
City Manager Alex Rey told commissioners Mayor Al Johnson asked him to look at permit fees food trucks are currently charged — a $170 fee for the first year and $80 for renewals.
“When I looked at the effort we are doing, pursuant to state law, the fees that you charge have to be related to the effort,” Rey said. “I think that reducing that to the regular renewable amount of $80 will be consistent with the level of effort we are doing. It takes into account a $50 inspection by the fire department, which is basically almost an hour of work, and a $30 processing fee by the planning department.”
Johnson said the request to lower the fee came from event organizers who are having difficulty attracting food trucks to events.
“I have heard from Corey Avenue (event organizers) that they couldn’t get people to bring food trucks in for their special events. Because of the fee to get in here and get a permit to operate in the city, which would only last for a year, they can’t get people to come,” Johnson said.
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher said the issue is one of her “sensitive subjects.” She explained the 127 to 157 restaurants in St. Pete Beach “are having a lot more stringent guidelines in order to be able to serve their guests.”
With the all the fees paid by brick-and-mortar restaurants that are paying taxes, contributing to the city and hiring local, she thinks the $170 fee is reasonable for the first year.
“I think if we were Sand Key and if we had, like, two restaurants, or if we were in Long Boat Key and had 10, it would be one thing,” she said. “But we have 127 businesses that are part of our community, and I just feel like that is not unreasonable.”
That’s the cost of doing business when the operation is able to go from town to town, she said.
Commissioner Doug Izzo said the food trucks are paying fees everywhere.
“And sooner or later it’s going to be unrealistic to expect them to pay in every city; there are 24 (cities) just in Pinellas County alone,” Izzo said.
Rey told commissioners “we need this for special events; it doesn’t affect the permanent ones that have a conditional use permit. This scenario is only for special events.”
The mayor added that food truck vendors are working on lower profit margins, and they don’t do that much business.
“I don’t care, if you guys want to do it that’s fine,” Pletcher said. “I’m just always going to be loyal to our brick-and-mortars and not lay out the red carpet to those businesses that have not made that commitment to our city.”
Johnson said he asked the city manager to take a look at the issue “because I thought we are overcharging for what we really had to do.”
Commissioner Ward Friszolowski said state law “made it pretty clear that we are only supposed to be charging for the level of effort that we are putting forth; state law kind of governs that.”
Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the issue at a later date.
DEP fines city for sanitary sewer overflow
Rey told commissioners the state Department of Environmental Protection fined the city $40,000 for a recent sanitary sewer overflow. He added that the agency has a fine reduction policy that allows governments to conduct projects valued at 1.5 times the fine amount that will help reduce any future overflows.
At their last meeting, city officials approved a system that will allow staff to monitor all the different pumps and the level at which they are performing, clearly providing them with an alert as to when something is going wrong, he explained.
“We are going to be submitting that project to DEP as our project for $260,000. It’s very consistent with what they are looking for us to do,” Rey said.