FARMVILLE — The Board of Commissioners has voted to charge food vendors $75 a day to operate in town, ordered them to stay 100 feet away from brick-and-mortar restaurants and limited operations to two days a week.
A 3-0 vote on the new ordinance came after a public hearing drew sharp criticism of a more restrictive proposal and two board members recused themselves because they lease space to restaurants that operate in buildings they own.
“This is economic protectionism,” Billy Strickland, a lawyer speaking on behalf of Ole Time Smokehouse owner Mark Shirley, told the board at its meeting Monday night. “If you take this ordinance and line it up to Mark Shirley and his business, you can’t come but to one conclusion. That is to run that man out of this town and anybody like him.”
A proposal on the table would have charged vendors $125 a day in addition to the two-day-a-week limit and the 100-foot rule. It also would have limited the number of vendors who could operate in the town on any one day.
Following the public hearing, commissioners Bert Smith and Jamin Dixon recused themselves from deliberation on the matter. Commissioners Brenda Elks, Alma Hobbs and David Shackelford discussed the ordinance further.
Elks and Hobbs said the daily fee should be decreased to $75. Elks said she was against an annual fee because a daily fee better allowed the town to address any issues that arise with food trucks and their operations.
Hobbs and Elks also asked to remove the restriction on the number of food trucks allowed to operate in a day.
Hobbs made a motion to accept the proposed ordinance with the changes and it passed 3-0. Mayor John Moore votes in the event of a tie.
With the change, food trucks and other food vendors also may not operate in the central business district. Vendors who do not operate out of trucks or trailers are allowed to operate only in the town’s highway business district. The ordinance exempts vendors from requirements during town-sponsored events.
Strickland also told the board that the town’s definitions of food trucks and vendors were too broad and could change the way ice cream trucks, Girl Scouts, Meals on Wheels, Grub Hub and similar entities could operate.
“What we’re asking is to be sensible. Yes, have the regulations, what’s required equipment and sanitation and then an annual permit fee just like every other town has out there that makes it viable for him to make a living and viable for the town to have different kinds of foods available to them,” Strickland said.
Former mayor Etsil Mason said the ordinance restricted growth and competition.
“Farmville has a way, from time to time, of trying to put itself into a bubble and when it does that it restrains commerce in lots of different ways,” Mason said.
“The ordinance is well-meant but too restrictive for business growth.”
Resident Shanti Hawkins was critical of the board following its decision.
“You all just showed us again how you do not listen to what it is we’re saying as citizens,” she said. “It wasn’t just the fee that was an issue, it was proximity to the business district as well as the days of operations. Free trade and how we are in America, you are putting a cap on how much a person can make while you’re also regulating what they should pay you because you feel like they are not being taxed,” Hawkins said.
Jonathan Riggs, chairman of the Pitt County Libertarian Party, also spoke against the ordinance.
“I’m extremely disappointed in the Board of Commissioners,” he said. “More government is rarely the answer. It’s completely unnecessary. Restriction, regulation is not going to help anything. They chose to expand regulation and restriction and further limited economic freedom in Farmville. The board does not trust its citizens to make their own decisions on what they patronize.”
The town in October barred new vendors from operating altogether after concerns were raised that the annual fee they paid was inequitable with taxes paid by restaurants.
The moratorium was put in place so staff could develop the new regulations discussed on Monday. Ole Time Smokehouse and Chick Fil A were largely exempted from the moratorium.
Commissioners on Monday also voted to create a separate line item in the budget to use funds garnered through food truck and vendor permits.
The money will be used to help fund Farmville Parks and Recreation pay for equipment and other items needed for children enrolled in recreation programs.