San Benito proposes cap to food vendor permits

City proposes cap to food vendor permits

SAN BENITO — On weekends, many nonprofits set up street-side food booths, selling tax-free barbecue chicken plates to raise money.

And all they need is the city’s $25 “temporary food permit.”

According to City Manager Manuel De La Rosa, some church groups hold these food fundraisers more than 100 days out of the year.

“We let it get out of hand for so long we need to put a stop to it,” Mayor Ben Gomez said yesterday.

So, city officials are cracking down, proposing limits to the number of permits issued to vendors each year.

“We’re not trying to target anyone,” City Commissioner Rick Guerra said. “We’re not trying to cut anyone off.”

Across the Rio Grande Valley, many cities cap the number of permits issued to food vendors.

In San Benito, the food stands are cutting into local restaurants’ business, Gomez said.

“All our restaurants pay their dues,” Gomez said, referring to taxes. “These people set up shop all week long and all they pay is a permit for 25 bucks.”

Top food vendors

The Valley Morning Star reviewed about 55 temporary food permits after an open records request for permits issued during the past six months.

Most were $50 no tax exemption permits to several churches, sports groups and residents.

Last year, the organizations issued the most permits included Precious Anointing Ministries, with 108 permits, and Triple J Grillers, with 38 permits, city spokeswoman Martha McClain stated.

Yesterday, Jaime Gonzalez said his Triple J Grillers will have to cut back on church fundraisers.

“We help a number of churches,” Gonzalez, a San Benito area resident who runs the popular trailer grill, said. “I did it out of the kindness of my heart. I’m not able to help the churches.”

That’s because city officials are considering limiting the number of permits issued to food vendors.

Proposed caps

Earlier this week, Fred Bell, assistant to the city manager, told commissioners cities such as Harlingen and Weslaco cap permits to four a year per organization.

“Don’t do it every weekend — Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Guerra said yesterday.

Like Gomez, Guerra said some nonprofit food vendors are eating into local restaurants’ business.

“Some of those churches are tax-exempt — they don’t give taxes to the city,” Guerra said. “But look at restaurants — they’re being taxed. We’re trying to protect the interests of the city and the restaurants.”

Earlier this month, Gomez said out-of-town vendors were setting up the food booths.

“While (some of) the entities may have San Benito in their addresses, they are actually located in rural areas not within the city limits,” McClain stated.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Carol Lynn Sanchez has expressed concern the proposed cap would limit youth sports teams’ fundraisers which help players pay to travel to state competitions.

“The idea isn’t to restrict those that are already in the community that are benefiting the community — recreational programs that are good for our families and children,” De La Rosa said during Tuesday’s meeting. “It is to keep those that don’t have brick and mortar that are coming here and affecting our businesses.”

The state already sets a limit on tax-exempt fundraisers, Guerra said.

Guerra said the state Comptroller’s Office allows nonprofits to hold no more than two tax-exempt fundraisers a year.

State laws

During Tuesday’s meeting, Bell said officials are warning residents who apply for temporary food permits the city is checking to see if the state has issued them identification numbers.

“One of the misconceptions pertains specifically to nonprofit fundraising events is that they’re not subject to paying sales tax. According to the Texas Comptroller’s Office, nonprofit organizations can have two fundraisers per year without having to pay the sales tax,” Bell told commissioners.

“So right now staff is actually revising the application process that’s going to address and require vendors to provide the sales tax identification that’s issued by the state comptroller’s office.”

Bell said one applicant walked out of City Hall after officials said officials were checking for state identification numbers.

“The response was, ‘No thank you,’ and left, which led us to believe that we probably had people coming in taking advantage,” Bell told commissioners.

Gomez said the new ordinance should not charge organizations setting up events such as health fairs.

“They’re bringing something to our community, giving back to the community, and we’re charging them a fee so I think that’s not right,” Gomez said.

Bell said the new ordinance would not target health fairs.

“There’s a difference between a food vendor and an information booth,” Bell told Gomez.