Columbus raises fees on mobile vendors
Owners of mobile-food vendor ventures will see a double-digit hike in license fees from the city of Columbus in the new year.
The Columbus Board of Health Dec. 18 approved a 10 percent increase on license fees for food trucks, carts and similar types of businesses, raising the price to $430 annually.
The increase is not sitting well with the Greater Ohio Showmen's Association, which represents nearly 300 mobile-food operators.
"It's getting cost-prohibitive," said Kevin Pope, a member of the association's board of trustees and owner of Mowry's Pizza, which attends multiple events in Columbus.
The new fee makes a Columbus license more expensive than any other city or county in the state, Pope said.
By comparison, Franklin County charges $128 per year and Delaware County charges $163. Columbus now charges more than New York City and Los Angeles, Pope said.
"We're opposed because it's a hardship on our members," he said.
"In these tough economic times, this is not the time to raise prices. It's time to stick to common-sense measures.
"Bottom line is the smaller businesses once again are shouldering the financial burden," Pope said.
Roger Cloern, an assistant health commissioner, said the increase is necessary to offset increasing personnel costs associated with those types of enterprises.
He said the mobile-food trucks, for example, are becoming far more elaborate and the cuisines more sophisticated, requiring more time for on-site inspections.
Cloern said the city was undercharging the mobile units and is catching up to the true cost of the inspection process.
Meanwhile, the city's hands are somewhat tied because the state -- which charges $28 for each license issued -- sets a formula for the way municipalities can charge those businesses, he said.
However, each jurisdiction sets its own fee structure, he said. The increase should level off in years to come, he said.
Jose Rodriguez, spokesman for Columbus Public Health, said the department sent letters notifying more than 5,000 licensees -- 500 of which are mobile vendors -- of the fee hikes.
Restaurants also will watch their fees increase from 3.5 percent to 3.9 percent in 2013. At the same time, temporary licenses have dropped 28.5 percent.
Linda Lutz, general manager of Concessions by Cox, which runs concessions at the Ohio Expo Center, said the company is looking at $50,000 in licensing fees for both mobile units and fixed locations.
"Anytime you do a 10 percent cost increase, it's got to affect something somewhere," Lutz said.
Cloern said Columbus has the right to inspect trucks whose licenses were granted in other jurisdictions, but cannot charge those operators. However, those who obtain licenses in Columbus are not charged for those other inspections, he said.
The increases also have upset the owners of other venues.
Victoria Brown, owner of Ms. Vikki's Restaurant and Banquet Facility on the East Side, said the increased fees could keep her from hiring workers. "The licenses are so high and every year they go up," Brown said.
"You know, when you really think about it, they come out to your establishment twice a year. They do a fair job, but not a great job."