The departure of food trucks in Mt. Juliet roused rabble from residents as the city has transitioned to restarting its economy, starting with the local food industry.
Commissioner Jennifer Milele characterized it as “a great number of requests from residents all over the city” for Mt. Juliet to let food trucks come back. For the most part, these are mobile food vendors from outside the city that were allowed to operate in Mt. Juliet (and throughout the state) after the tornado and through the early weeks of quarantine due to temporary permits issued to them from the Zoning Authority.
Public demand for these vendors reached its zenith right when the trucks disappeared, and that demand, therefore, turned into an outcry. This coincided with rumors circulating about Mt. Juliet having supposedly banned the food trucks for any of several reasons. Those rumors appear to have come from the vendors themselves.
“Despite a rumor on social media that (admittedly) was started by a food truck vendor, it set off a firestorm of misinformation, saying that the city banned food trucks,” according to Milele.
To address the rumors, the city published a concise press release stating that the rumor was false and reiterating the law as it stands. It also explained that the temporary exceptions to that law represented by the permits that could be issued during a state of emergency were just that — exceptions, which have expired.
In truth, the permits that provided for these food trucks were always set to expire on April 30, and the city merely opted not to issue any new permits. By law, these trucks are already only allowed to operate in the city up to six times a year and each time only on a temporary basis, and the safer-at-home order provided a temporary exception to that zoning ordinance.
The ordinance itself went back into effect on May 1, the first day after the closure of the state of emergency provision. Vendors had been allowed to exceed the normal duration typically allotted by these zoning permits because of the permits. For food trucks to return, the City Planning Commission would have to field an amendment to the existing law, and the Board of Commissioners would have to approve that amendment.
Local-option sales tax revenue accounts for 45% of Mt. Juliet’s funds, and it comes from businesses based in Mt. Juliet. According to Vice Mayor James Maness, however, restrictions on food truck permits protect that tax revenue. The press release said the permitting process is what it is specifically to safeguard local brick-and-mortar businesses.
“A lot of times, those (food truck) businesses are not based out of Mt. Juliet, so the taxes that are collected there wind up going back to wherever the business is based out of,” Maness said. “So, in a sense, we wind up funding school systems in another place, we wind up funding the police department for someplace else, we wind up paying for roads in other places when we’ve got local option taxes that are not being collected in the city where it’s sowed.”