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Food truck ordinance reviewed by committee

The city economic revitalization committee tried to find the right balance of a proposed ordinance regulating food truck operators and appeasing downtown restaurant owners.

The committee listened Monday to both sides of the issue as food trucks have become popular eateries throughout the Central Business District and other locations around Williamsport.

“The issue isn’t that we don’t want food trucks,” said Vincent Matteo, president and CEO of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce. “We just want a fair playing field for our brick-and-mortar restaurants that pay leases, mortgages and mercantile and business privilege taxes.”

“We don’t want food trucks to start to impact the restaurants so much that people leave,” Mayor Gabriel J. Campana told the committee.

Matteo said the chamber in no way wants to discourage food truck operators from making a living but supports measures to protect existing businesses and prevent unfair business practices, such as a truck parking outside of a restaurant overnight so it remains there when the restaurant opens in the morning for breakfast and lunch.

Restauranteur Vince DiSalvo said certain food truck operators can help his restaurant, which stops serving dinners at 10 p.m. The trucks operating from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., for example, can help with those drinking alcohol who could use some food, he said.

“Food trucks can be incubators for brick-and-mortar businesses,” Councilwoman Liz Miele, of the committee, said.

John Albarano, chairman of the East Third Street Gateway Commission, asked and received an answer as to the zoning districts food trucks can operate in, which includes residential zones. Albarano discouraged that and said the city should consider amending that part of the ordinance.

“Is there a way to see their receipts?” asked Pete Sides, a member of the commission with Albarano.

Part of the licensing process under review would require the truck operators to pay mercantile tax based on their receipts. The vendor license and health license would go to the city treasurer for review of tax purposes, according to the draft ordinance.

Other proposed requirements would be for the truck operators to carrying a minimum of $1 million insurance, be required to have a health license, pay a $200 annual permit feet, cleanup and provide trash receptacles, not park near fire hydrants or within 50 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Miele also considered the vitality of the city issuing a minimum of 20 licenses per year.

The city has a separate ordinance regarding special events, when there are multiple food trucks in a specific area during festivals and organized city-sponsored activities.

Miele also wanted to hear from the food truck operators, to get their input as the proposed ordinance moves forward.

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