Food vendor

Hutchinson City Council members are still grappling with what to do about the city’s food vendor ordinance.

During its meeting Tuesday, council members revisited the discussion for a fourth time after the issue was originally brought up at its Aug. 13 meeting. The council initially began looking at the ordinances for peddlers and solicitors, and food vendors following a request from Bobbing Bobber Brewing Co. co-owner Dan Hart. Hart asked to have a temporary food vendor license added to the city code, which would make it more affordable for food trucks and vendors to do business inside city limits, especially when they only plan to visit a few times per year. No temporary license currently exists.

On Tuesday, council members approved a first reading of changes to the peddlers and solicitors ordinance, including a temporary permit for up to three consecutive days. The city administrator is also allowed to approve permits without the council’s approval, and vendors participating in events sponsored by the Hutchinson Event Center, McLeod County Fairgrounds, the Hutchinson Mall and Hutchinson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism are exempt from needing a license. A second reading is scheduled for the Oct. 22 meeting.

Discussion of the food vendor ordinance hit a snag once again, however. One of the main issues has been whether or not to require background checks for food vendors applying for a license. Background checks are conducted by the Hutchinson Police Department, and Police Chief Tom Gifferson said those checks take anywhere from an hour to days depending on what the department finds.

Mayor Gary Forcier posed dropping the city license altogether since food trucks are already required to be licensed by the state, to which council members Mary Christensen and Chad Czmowski agreed.

“I do think we’re losing food truck business by having a permit at all,” Czmowski said. “It seems like they’re going to places where they don’t have to jump through any hoops at all.”

Council Member Steve Cook disagreed. He reasoned that because peddlers and solicitors must receive a license from the city, so should food vendors.

“When we broke off the food vendor license, before that they were all a part of a peddler/merchant license,” he said. “There is staff time involved. There’s also enforcement possibilities, which we’ve had some of those. There’s a cost to that. ... We license other businesses, again, food trucks are just like a transient merchant.”

Police Chief Gifferson questioned whether background checks are necessary as part of the licensing process. He said that the cost of proposed temporary licenses, $25-$35, would not cover the cost of a background check.

“If what we want to do is permit these food trucks, is it really necessary for a background as part of that?” he said. “Can’t we just issue a permit without a background? Our enforcement action would be removing the permit, and then you can no longer operate.”

“It could be as easy as stopping over at City Center, handing over three documents and (city administrator Matt Jaunich) rubber stamping the permit,” Gifferson said.

Ultimately, Forcier motioned to approve the first reading of the revised food truck ordinance, but that was defeated by council members Christensen, Czmowski and Dave Sebesta. Czmowski then asked to have the ordinance revised once again to eliminate the need for a background check. The first reading of proposed revisions will be at the Oct. 22 meeting.

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