Food truck owner shares thoughts on proposed fee in Brownstown



As the Brownstown Town Council considers establishing regulations concerning the operation of mobile food vehicles, a local vendor shared his input.

Toby Calhoun, who operates the Junkyard BBQ and Ice Cream food truck with his wife, Tiffani, said they set up shop in Jackson, Bartholomew, Scott, Jefferson and Washington counties, and he provided information regarding what communities charge for a permit.

Those include $40 for a 10-day permit in Madison, $75 for a year in Salem, $150 for 120 days in Madison and $150 for a year in Seymour. Columbus and Scottsburg don’t have city permits, but Calhoun said Scottsburg is working on establishing one.

In an ordinance that recently was drafted by town attorney Travis Thompson, the council proposed a $150 yearly fee for any vendor wishing to operate a mobile food vehicle in Brownstown.

Since the town’s population is much smaller and there aren’t many places to set up compared to the other communities, Calhoun said that fee is high.

“I feel like $150 a year is pretty extreme based on the population of the community and what food truck owners and mobile vendors are actually getting in that $150. That’s not to say it can’t be justified,” he told the council during Monday night’s meeting at the town hall.

He, however, said it’s a good idea to have a fee.

“I think it should address that food trucks should be licensed retail merchants,” Calhoun said. “They should have a certificate in the trucks, and they should be paying taxes on their income. That’s part of that. Being a retail merchant, they should have that displayed in their trucks. I believe that’s also part of the county requirement.”

Other paperwork, including ServSafe certifications and proof of liability insurance, should be on file in the truck and readily available to show if asked, he said.

“I’ve never had anybody come up when I was parked somewhere and ask to see all of these things, but we run a pretty tight ship, and I generally have everything there. I’m always ready for it,” Calhoun said.

Councilman Tim Robinson agreed with the importance of insurance.

“We want to make sure that anyone setting up here is properly insured,” he said.

If approved by the Brownstown Town Council, the ordinance would only apply to mobile food vehicles used to store, prepare, display or serve food or beverages on public or private property. That includes vehicles that are generally self-contained, movable, wheeled, towed, motorized or nonmotorized.

This does not apply to anyone selling fruits, vegetables or farm products grown themselves or other homemade products; a business or merchant making delivery of food previously ordered by a customer; or anyone selling food as part of a town-approved special event or festival.

According to the proposed ordinance, a vendor would have to obtain written consent to operate on private property or receive approval from the town council on town-owned property. Also, mobile food vehicles would not be allowed to operate within 50 feet of a ground-level establishment that also sells food or beverages within an hour before opening time or an hour after closing time.

“Generally, if I can see another place, I don’t park my food truck there. I don’t want them to see me from their front door,” Calhoun said.

“Not all food trucks do that, and I feel like I go overboard with some places, and it has cost me in some ways, but I don’t try to make decisions based off just what the law says. I try to make decisions based off what’s right and wrong,” he said. “I wouldn’t want a competitor who is able to uproot and move to be within eyesight of my business.”

As for other places he sets up, Calhoun said he asks for approval from the board of public works and safety if it’s on city-owned property in Seymour, and he can park on private property with permission from the property owner.

In Salem, Calhoun said there’s only a city permit, and it doesn’t get involved in private property setup. The city has Centerpeace Park that provides power and is a known space for food trucks.

“You plug in. You don’t run your generator. It’s really a nice setup, and although it’s a bit out of the way — it’s set next to Wendy’s and behind a little pizza shop — you can see it from the road, but it’s so well-known, people go there,” Calhoun said. “I do pretty well when I go there.”

Calhoun said he doesn’t think a permit to set up on private property should be included in Brownstown’s ordinance.

“It shouldn’t distinguish between what is agreed between the two parties,” he said. “I should not have to get a permit for a privately agreed contract unless I’m serving to the public. It’s a private event. Places generally do not get involved in that.”

The ordinance also states mobile food vehicles could be open to the public between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., but Calhoun suggested changing that.

“It would be nice, I think, for citizens as well as the food truck owners to be able to serve a little later, especially with the Brownstown track on Saturdays,” he said, referring to car races at Brownstown Speedway. “Most of your eating places around here are going to be closed anyway, and I think people would appreciate being able to leave the race track and stop somewhere here in town and grab something to eat on the way home.”

Calhoun told the council he expects more food trucks to roll into Brownstown.

“Food trucks are going to be looking for these places, and they are going to be coming,” he said. “I joined a lot of food truck groups, and this area is going to get real busy with food trucks. I can see it happening.”

Calhoun attended Monday’s meeting because he thought the council was going to hear the first reading of the ordinance, but that wasn’t on the agenda.

For the ordinance to go into effect, it will require three readings being approved. The council meets twice a month — on the first and third Mondays.

Councilwoman Sharon Koch thanked Calhoun for his input.

“I would encourage you guys to call me any time if there’s anything I can help with,” Calhoun told the council. “We enjoy coming to Brownstown, we do good business here and we plan on being a part of this area for a long time, so whatever we can do to make that easier for everyone, we’re happy to do. I would be willing to work with you guys however I can to make things fair.”

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