Restaurant Tax Has Not Affected Omaha Food Trucks in First Year

OMAHA – Once a week, Dan Peterson has a standing lunch date.

The engineer at Lozier Corp. meets his wife and their three young children at the food trucks parked along the Gene Leahy Mall downtown.

“We’ve made it a Thursday tradition,” he said last week on the sunny and warm November day.

The Petersons are among those who say they aren’t turned off — and really haven’t noticed — the tax on mobile food vending in Omaha.

It’s been a year since the city moved to apply its 2.5 percent restaurant tax to food trucks. The tax has long applied to the city’s bricks-and-mortar restaurants.

Like traditional restaurant owners, those at food trucks can choose to absorb the tax or pass it on to their customers.

The City Council in November 2016 also approved food truck regulations, which included a licensing fee, a 2:30 a.m. end time and parking restrictions.

The annual fee is $100, with an additional $100 for vendors who operate primarily downtown.

Officials with the city and local food truck association say the transition has gone well.

Fifty-two trucks registered with the city this year, and few have been ticketed for violating the rules.

“To look at all of the colorful trucks around the mall, that’s really cool,” said Kelly Keegan, president of the Omaha Food Truck Association. “There’s a real sense of pride about what we’ve done.”

The tax was enacted on restaurants in 2010 under then-Mayor Jim Suttle to help fix a looming police and fire pension shortfall. Food trucks, however, were exempt.

Extending the restaurant tax to food trucks was a matter of fairness, Mayor Jean Stothert and other supporters said last year.

The ordinance, sponsored by former Councilmen Garry Gernandt and Franklin Thompson, also helped put to rest a lawsuit brought by the owner of Michael’s Cantina at the Market. Michael Henery argued the tax was unconstitutional and arbitrarily excluded food trucks.

The city’s restaurant tax has brought in much more than forecast.

The city is on track to bring in $31.5 million from the restaurant tax in 2017, according to the latest financial projections.

From January to October, the city received $38,600 in restaurant tax from food trucks, said Finance Director Steve Curtiss. Permits for food trucks brought in more than $5,000.

In addition to the trucks that congregate downtown on Thursdays, the trucks are also popular at private events, block parties and farmers markets across the city.

Customers visiting the trucks along the downtown mall last week were mostly downtown workers and out-of-towners in Omaha for business.

Some patrons were stay-at-home parents with their children, looking for a cheap lunch, a variety of options and a chance to enjoy the good weather.

The city had issued four citations to truck owners as of mid-year, said Michael Meyers, a project manager in the city’s Public Works Department parking division.

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