The De Queen City Council continued discussions on allowing food trucks into the city at their May 7 meeting. While earlier talks had been about locating a food court at Herman Dierks Park, Mayor Jeff Brown said that he didn’t like the location due to the city being shorthanded on maintenance staff and was worried about trash collection.
“It will be a mess if we put it in the city park,” he said. “We have enough to keep up with and we don’t want the city to be in the business to fight against other restaurants in the city.”
Brown said he didn’t have a problem with food trucks coming to town, just not at the city park unless its a special event.
“Fiesta Fest or Hoo-Rah Days I think it’s awesome for food trucks to come in to town and I get a lot of phone calls supporting it,” Brown said.
Fire Chief Dennis Pruitt said he had been researching food trucks and thought they were a good idea to bring to the community, though there have been issues in the past with mobile food vendors taking root in the community and not having to adhere to the same codes permanent city restaurants have to. He said that some food trucks are no longer mobile and have installed awning and seating, making them dangerous should a fire break out.
“They’re there against every code we have,” Pruitt said. “How we got to this point, I don’t know and if we do this more we can’t let them get to the point that this is.”
He said that restaurants that open with permanent structures have to spend as much as $150,000 for fire suppression and other city code requirements, whereas the food trailers in town just drop in a trailer and plastic covering.
“There’s nothing legal about any of them anymore,” he told the council, noting that he believed that the council at one point had grandfathered the businesses in and that higher ups within the city had insisted that the fire department, which also oversees code enforcement, had been told to back off citing the businesses. “It’s not fair to others that have a permanent restaurant.”
Saying that he was not against food trucks, he suggested that they should not be allowed to set up a shack outside the business with TVs and air conditioning.
Discussion with the council then centered on plumbing and electric being run to the local mobile trailers, which made them permanent now.
“We got rules,” Pruitt said. “You give us the rules, we enforce them — and if we enforce one we need to enforce all of them. If they are indeed a mobile food trailer, they need to follow the rules of a mobile food trailer.”
He said that while permanent restaurants have to have exits established in case of a fire, the mobile trailers with tarps and electrical heat were not in compliance as others are made to be.
Brown said that while he didn’t want food trucks on city property competing with local businesses, he was open to them being sited on private property, such as Walmart or Tractor Supply — as long as they were there for a limited amount of time. He was also open to a property owner in a commercial zone establishing a food court where food trucks could pull in for a limited time, paying rent to the property owner who would in turn provide restrooms and pay for water and trash pickup.
“We’d have to set up some rules and guidelines,” Brown said. “Instead of every food truck having his own water and back flow, the owner of the property would take care of it and we wouldn’t have to worry about collecting money.”
The council discussed the mobile trailer on 4th Street south of De Queen Ave., with Brown saying the owner had outgrown the trailer and wanted to put in a new one. According to a March 2011 ordinance passed by the then council, removing the current trailer would mean the end of the business as no new trailer would be allowed in. Brown said that the owner would have to install bathrooms and other features in order to make it legal.
Pruitt reiterated that the restaurants all needed to be treated the same.
“Once you make it a restaurant, they have to follow the same rules as other restaurants,” he said.
City Attorney Erin Hunter said that the city, under the 2011 emergency ordinance, established the restaurants as permanent establishments and that they should have to do what other restaurants have to do.
Alderman Rick Pruitt said that they have gotten ahead of the game and have had an advantage by not letting other mobiles come in.
Alderman Kathy Richardson, who was on the council when the ordinance passed, said the city just didn’t “want a gazillion taco stands popping up everywhere” and that’s where they felt things were headed.
“We didn’t want them on every corner of the city,” she said.
Firefighter Jay Litchford, who also oversees code enforcement, said that for the 4th Street mobile to pull out ten feet, they would have to have an electrician come in to disconnect the electric.
“It’s not a quick connection,” he said, “it’s a hard connection like your house — so it’s not mobile. They can’t be hardwired in the electric and plumbing.”
“Once you do that it’s not a mobile anymore,” Chief Pruitt said, noting that more mobile restaurants would move to the area if the rules were the same for them.
The council then made the decision to continue talks at the next council meeting.
In other action, the council voted to extend the lease of the Smiles dental clinic on De Queen Ave. for five years at the same rent they’ve been paying, $3,896 a month and 80 percent of utilities, the other 20 percent being paid for by the Revenue Office next door. The council voted 6-0 to approve the lease.
The council also voted to put a new roof on the senior center building, which is 15 years old and has been leaking for years. The new roof will cost the city just over $15,000. The council voted 6-0 in approval of replacement.
The council voted to approve the expenditure of $75,000 from the general fund to be used to subsidize the paving of Third, Fourth and Sixth streets from Collin Raye Drive to De Queen Ave. According to Brown, the Street Department has $100,000 budgeted for street paving this year and the cost is estimated to be $225,000 to repave all three roads.
The other $50,000 will come from street revenue this year. Brown said that the three roads were important as visitors to town often take the streets into town and the impression it leaves on them was of concern. Brown said that he felt that by taking bids for the streets themselves rather than by tonnage, the city could save on costly job changes.
“If we put it out for bid by the street, they can’t charge us anymore than it costs for the street,” he told the council. “They can’t add any tonnage to it so the price can’t go up.”
The council voted 6-0 to approve the projects.
The council extended the meeting for one last item, to approve an additional $407 for a new truck that costs $24,000 that had already been budgeted.