South Boston Town Council members were prepared at their Monday evening meeting to take action on a topic they had been discussing for three months — licensing and fees for mobile food units.
But new information brought to council’s attention by food and ice cream truck owner Michael Coleman halted action on the topic. After hearing the new information, council decided to refer the issue to the town’s lawyer for review before making a decision.
Councilman William “Bill” Snead made the motion to refer the matter to the lawyer.
“I don’t think we have the clarity we need (to make a decision),” Snead said. Council unanimously voted to table the decision on food vendor fees and licensing pending review by the town lawyer.
Mobile food vendors currently pay a “peddler’s fee” of $100 per day or $500 per year. The new staff recommendation up for council approval at Monday’s meeting was for mobile food units selling prepackaged items such as ice cream to continue to pay the $500 peddler’s fee currently in place and not pay meals taxes. Mobile food units registered in South Boston selling freshly prepared food, on the other hand, would purchase a business license based on gross receipts and pay 6% meals taxes, according to the recommendation.
Coleman first brought up the topic of mobile food units’ fees at council’s January meeting, calling the fee “excessive.” His argument at Monday’s meeting was that his ice cream truck and his food truck serve the same purpose and should not be separated into two different categories.
“I humbly request that you include the ice cream truck as a mobile food unit,” Coleman said. “They both are food, whether it’s a hot dog, or whether it’s a Sno-cone.”
But council members had a different opinion.
“The difference with the ice cream truck is the ice cream is prepackaged, and you’re going around to different places, so it really does fit in the peddler category, whereas the other truck is preparing hot foods,” said councilman Winston Harrell. “It’s different.”
Councilman Bob Hughes had similar thoughts, commenting that the likelihood of a food truck moving from place to place in a 24-hour timeframe was much less likely than an ice cream truck moving from location to location.
“There’s a difference in the mobility here,” Hughes said.
Coleman also questioned the legality of charging the $500 peddler’s fee, based on Virginia Code 58.1-3703.The code states the “governing body of any county, city or town may charge a fee for issuing a license in an amount not to exceed $100 for any locality with a population greater than 50,000, $50 for any locality with a population of 25,000 but no more than 50,000 and $30 for any locality with a population smaller than 25,000.”
“South Boston’s population is a little less than 8,000, so if that be the case, I should not be charged peddler’s or any license for $500 according to the law,” Coleman said. “I paid this for 10 years. If this be the case, then the town has charged me for 10 years a fee that according to the state code is not acceptable.”
Another business owner at Monday’s meeting, Cyndi Overby, also addressed council on the topic of licensing and fees on mobile food units. Overby is opening Factory Street Brewing Company in South Boston later this year.
“We intend on having food trucks regularly at the brewery, and we’d like to make it as easy as possible for them to come in and provide this service,” Overby said.