Columbus Council meeting sparks debate over food truck permit fee increase

Published 12:51 pm Monday, August 21, 2023

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Iron Key Brewing Company co-owner asks for compromise


COLUMBUS—A local business owner spoke at the Columbus Town Council meeting on Thursday, August 17, saying a recent food truck permit fee hike was too drastic.

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Iron Key Brewing Company co-owner Rodney Dofort pleaded his case at the meeting, asking for compromise. On June 14, the Council voted to change the price for a food truck permit in Columbus from $75 for six months to $250 for one month, twenty times the previous fee.

Mayor Patrick McCool, Councilwoman Becky Kennedy and Councilman Richard Hall visited Iron Key last week at Dofort’s request to get an idea of the business that the Cousin’s Maine Lobster truck brings to the venue.

“The objective of the food truck was to try and develop the Monday and Tuesday business,” said Dofort. “Based on the frictions developed there was a movement against food trucks, which I think was quite punitive.”

Dofort explained that staff shortages have led to the kitchen being unable to open Monday and Tuesday, and bringing in a food truck on those days is a temporary solution. He hopes that it will eventually lead to Iron Key being able to open its kitchen six or seven days a week.

However, Dofort and some others see the new permit fees as too costly.

“I think we should do a $25 a day charge,” said Paul Dale, owner of Foothills Mountain BBQ food truck. “[The new permit fees] would kill business more than anything, I think.”

Dofort says he’ll pay the $250 monthly fee from August until November, and then wants to meet with the Council in December to see if they still feel the permit fee is appropriate.

“My request to you is to give us until the end of November to prove to you that [the food trucks] are an advantage,” Dofort said. “To prove to you that we’re not a conflict with other businesses.”

Councilman Mark Phillips defended the new permit fee, explaining that the trucks aren’t limited to one area or visit, and they have the ability to come as often as they want during the 30-day period. Town Manager Tim Barth elaborated, saying the permits aren’t limited to a specific site, and the permit is for the truck, not the location.

Councilwoman Becky Kennedy stated that $250 is “a drop in the bucket” compared to what the food truck made at Iron Key on the night of their visit. Phillips seconded the statement, saying the fee “isn’t completely unreasonable,” adding that he didn’t feel that Dofort had made a valid argument.

Councilman Brent Jackson said that the fee hadn’t sat well with him since it was passed, noting that there needs to be a change.

“You go killing these people with fees like this, you’ll drive them out of town,” Jackson added.

Jackson made a motion to temporarily amend the permit fee schedule to $75 a month, which was seconded by Councilman Richard Hall. Council members Kennedy and Phillips voted against the motion.

The final vote came down to Mayor Patrick McCool, who struck it down.

“I think we can work something out, it’s just not going to be as fast as you want it, ” McCool told Dofort. “I think we’ll come up with something, it’s just not going to be tonight.”

Dofort said that it was gratifying that two of the council members appeared in favor of revisiting the permit fees.

“The final vote went against us,” he stated after the meeting. “We have to respect the Council’s decision to protect the interests of certain other brick and mortar establishments and consider how to work with this new fee structure.”

Dofort said it’s unlikely that Iron Key will be able to provide the range of food truck offerings they had hoped for this fall, but the restaurant still looks forward to welcoming both new and regular customers.

Columbus Town Council has called a special meeting set for August 22 to discuss municipal code changes and food truck ordinances.