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City tells food truck operators of coming changes

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Kevin Maevers, city of Roswell Community Development director, center, says changes are coming to the food truck industry in the “post-COVID” period when festivals and mass gatherings are allowed again. He and other city staff, including Aracelli Bartlett, left, serving as a Spanish translator, spoke with food truck operators during a Thursday meeting at the Roswell Adult Center. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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City of Roswell employees have said that food trucks will be operating under a new type of permit for Food Truck Fridays on North Main Street starting May 1 and that they will have five months to bring their trucks into full compliance with fire suppression system requirements.

“There are going to be a lot of changes over the summer,” said Community Development Director Kevin Maevers. “And we want to make sure that you have the best information to get you up to speed on what will be required after Labor Day.”

About 70 people attended a Thursday morning meeting at the Roswell Adult Center to review current licensing and permitting processes and discuss possible future changes affecting food truck operators working within the city limits.

Maevers assured the crowd that he is a “big fan” of the industry and that his intention is to “set the stage” for operators’ “continued and future success.”

Contrary to rumors that the city wants to shut down food truck operations, he said, his department is working toward the goal of allowing expanded food truck operations throughout the city.

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He talked about the possibility of one day having established food truck courts where many trucks could gather throughout the year, as well as increasing the city streets where food trucks can operate during community festivals.

At the end of the hour-long meeting, food truck owners began to ask questions about types and costs of different permits, such as permits for events, permits for multiple locations and permits for permanent, yearlong locations. It became clear that misunderstandings still existed, with food truck operators indicating they were paying different amounts than described by city staff.

Maevers said future meetings or updates on the city website would occur after city staff had a chance to discuss the issues more with each other and with food truck operators.

New Food Truck

Friday permit

A definite change at this point, Maevers said, is the issuance for a seasonal “event” permit for Food Truck Fridays. He said the change came after the city reached an agreement with the New Mexico Department of Transportation, which shares jurisdiction over Main Street, because it is also U.S. Highway 285.

“The agreement we have with the state will go into effect May 1, just so everyone knows, and will extend through the Labor Day weekend,” Maevers said.

Instead of requiring food truck operators to get a permit each week, they will be issued one permit. That means owners or operators will pay $75 for the single permit instead of $140 to $150 for weekly permits.

The actual effective dates are May 7, the first Friday in May, to Sept. 3, with the exception of July 2, when the Alien Fest will occur in the downtown business district. While food trucks won’t be allowed on Main Street in downtown, they will be permitted in other city locations during the UFO Festival that will run concurrently with the Alien Fest.

Maevers also said that discussions are being held now with state officials to possibly expand the area where the food trucks are allowed during Food Truck Fridays. The current thought is that the downtown North Main Street parking area would be expanded by several blocks, from Fifth Street to First Street, with two trucks allowed per block on each side of the street.

Required permit process

Maevers and his staff discussed all the necessary steps that food operators need to take to operate safely and legally starting May 1.

While the requirements have not changed, they said, it has become clear that the industry did not understand them and that they were not enforced uniformly.

Maevers said increased enforcement will be a reality.

“This is a requirement in the post-COVID-19 world,” he said. “Everybody from the federal government all the way down to the county and even us here in Roswell want to make sure that you are operating safe and that we are protecting the public, and to do that, there is going to be an increase in spot inspections.”

The flowchart of the process was changed during the meeting based on feedback. As stated now, it involves, first, obtaining a New Mexico tax identification number from the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department; second, obtaining a mobile food vendor registration application from the city; third, obtaining an inspection from the Roswell Fire Marshal’s office; fourth, getting an environmental safety check from the local office of the New Mexico Environment Department; fifth, getting a free background check from the Roswell Police Department; and sixth, submitting the vendor registration application to the city, along with all the other required inspections, checks and documents, so that the vendor license can be issued.

The police check raised some questions, but Code Enforcement Officer Bill Bartlett said he has never known a vendor license to be denied because of the background check during the past 20 years. The fire safety requirements caused more concerns. Some food truck operators said they’ve been told in the past that they did not have to install fire suppression systems, which they said are expensive. Some also said that different inspectors within Roswell and in various cities and counties have made different decisions.

Maevers said the city is aware of the misunderstandings and enforcement issues and is giving food truck owners a “grace period” to comply.

They must have their mobile units inspected by the Fire Marshal’s Office by May 1 and correct any immediate safety issues, but then they will have until Sept. 3 to comply with whatever other safety measures are needed, such as putting in hoods or fire suppression systems. A few food operators said those cost $5,000 to buy and install.

“You will have the entire summer to operate to bring your vehicle into compliance,” Maevers said. “We are not going to say you can’t do it. We are going to say, get out there, make as much money as you can during the summer. Reinvest that money into your vehicle, because after Labor Day, you will have to be in full compliance. But you have now until Labor Day, and there will be no exceptions.”

Reactions mixed

Celeste Barrera, who came to the meeting with a food truck operator, said, “I think this was what everybody needed, that everything is clear and everyone is on the same page.”

Travis Johnson, who has operated a food truck for seven years, said he thinks the changes are “ridiculous.”

“We are getting inspected already by propane guys, environmentalists, fire marshals,” he said. “Everything is safe. They are just trying to make things more difficult.”

Johnson said he has never heard of a fire at a food truck in Roswell and that requiring full compliance now comes at a bad time because the industry is struggling financially due to the lack of events and festivals during the COVID-19 period.

“So for the next four months, they are expecting us to not make any money so that we can pay for this stupid fire suppression system,” he said.

Kerry Moore ran the Chef Toddzilla’s food truck in Roswell until she opened the brick-and-mortar restaurant a couple of years ago.

“Some of the regulation changes needed to be put in place a long time ago, so I am glad to see that they are finally going to enforce it,” she said.

She added that she thinks the meeting also pointed out that there still needs to be clarification about types and costs of permits and licenses.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.