BUFFALO, NY - Food trucks have become a huge draw in Western New York, since splashing onto the scene a couple years ago. But high permitting fees in Buffalo have been driving some trucks out of the business.
Now, food truck operators are fighting back.
Renee Allen of R&R BBQ says the current fee structure makes it tough to keep her truck running.
"What we're looking for is just something reasonable so that we can operate our business and have a little bit lower fees so we can actually bring the food to the public like we want to do," she said.
Next Tuesday, Western New York Food Truck Association, the region's food truck representative, will go to City Hall and meet with members of Common Council to fight for lower fees.
WNYFTA, which includes nine food trucks, has started lobbying council members ahead of an April 1 deadline, when a city code that was approved in 2011 expires and the current fee structure needs to be updated. Many vendors desperately want the permit renewal fee lowered.
Right now, it costs $1,000 for a food truck owner to get city approval to operate in Buffalo. It costs another $1,000 to renew the license each year. And according to vendors, the price is too high and needs to be lowered.
On the other side of the debate, are many brick and mortar restaurants that say the food truck fees are too low. The trucks and restaurants compete for business.
"The fees are excessively high compared to other cities across the nation our fee of $1,000 a year is the highest, we'd like to get that reduced substantially," said Mitchell Stenger, an attorney for WNYFTA.
Food truck vendors say their costs grow even higher, when special events and Buffalo Place fees are added on top.
North District council member Joseph Golombek says the permit fees cover city costs.
"You do have to have the City of Buffalo inspect them, you have to have an inspector there, you have to have a fire inspector go there, I think there's also a police officer has to inspect it, so we do need to be reimbursed for the cost," said Golombek.
He adds that brick and mortar restaurants that compete with the food trucks say the permit fees should be higher. Golombek thinks a compromise may be found that would lower the renewal permit fees. It's unclear what that number will be. Actual permit fees would stay the same.
Across the country, many other cities have more reasonable permit fees, like, $100 in Washington, D.C., $340 in Philadelphia and about $200 in New York City.
Chris Taylor, a co-owner of The Roaming Buffalo thinks there are some benefits to the current permit fee, "it does keeps the rift raft out, you don't want a guy selling hot dogs in the back of his minivan, so if you're serious about doing a food truck, $1,000 you're going to pay the City of Buffalo and then when you want to renew the fee drop it down to $325."
It all comes down to a deal that's affordable enough for the food trucks and not too low for many brick and mortar restaurants.
The new permit fee code could be approved immediately, if enough council members approve it and if Mayor Byron Brown signs it.
If there are problems with the new fee breakdown, then an extension of the current statute may be voted on to give more time for debate.