Published: Dec 11, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Dec 11, 2012 06:00 PM
Your editorial Food Trucks may finally have their Day (CHN, Nov. 25) correctly stated that the town really shouldnt be in the business of favoring one type of eatery over another but then reached the wrong conclusion; to wit, that food trucks should be allowed to pay less in taxes and fees and be subject to less regulation than existing eateries and businesses in general.
I like food trucks. In your article you correctly state that I have gone through the process so that food trucks can set up in the old Chapel Hill News now the Chapel Hill Booze building. If you havent had a Baguetteaboutit sandwich then you have missed a real treat.
However, one of the most important missions of government is to ensure that external costs of economic activities are properly allocated among the appropriate actors and that all actors have a level playing field.
For the purpose of brevity, lets forgo a detailed discussion of property tax generated by brick and mortar establishments that are then used to create the infrastructure roads, parking, lighting, marketing etc. that food trucks then seek to benefit from without investment. This simple argument continues to get misrepresented as protectionism for existing establishments instead of what it is: a common sense argument guarding against a free rider scenario.
Instead, lets just focus on the pay through your nose fees of ensuring that food trucks have to operate by the same public health standards that brick and mortar establishments do. Health inspections for brick and mortar establishments are exhaustive, time consuming my last one lasted over six hours disruptive and extremely necessary. They are a necessary external cost of doing business, and they are properly allocated to brick and mortar restaurants through the myriad of fees and taxes they pay.
Due to the operating hours and procedures of food trucks, additional inspectors and new procedures will need to be developed to ensure that food trucks simply get inspected at all, let alone at the level to which brick and mortar restaurants are subject. I hope that there have been enough outbreaks of food-borne illness to assume consensus that food trucks need to be inspected like every other establishment.
Can we adjust our fees to attract the critical mass necessary to launch our new inspection program effectively as Town Council member Matt Czajkowski muses? I am sure we can. At the very least, it is always a good thing to review the fairness and efficiency of governmental policies and programs. After all, your editorial eloquently makes the case that taxes and fees adversely impact economic activity, even one as lightly taxed and regulated as food trucks; a position that longtime readers are no doubt surprised to see in your newspaper, which typically concludes that businesses can absorb all manner of fees and taxes with no adverse effect.
Which brings me to my final point. I wish council member Jim Ward would extend his admonition to the Chapel Hill staff to change their attitude from Why? to Why not? from just food trucks to all business activity in Chapel Hill. Only then will all business finally have their day and our community be on the road to true economic prosperity.
Cheers!Scott Maitland is the proprietor of Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery and Top of the Hill Distillery.
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