PATERSON, NJ - The city council and the director of the Department of Health and Human Services have yet to agree on how licenses should be distributed to applicants seeking to operate food-vending vehicles.
Donna Ivy, the director of the Division of Health, attended Tuesday night’s workshop session to discuss progress on fixing what she calls a “broken system.” Council members voiced criticism and possible solutions to the problem.
More than 10 people attended a council meeting several weeks ago, looking for an explanation of why they were denied a license renewal to operate food-vending vehicles in Paterson. The peddlers, who did not want to be identified, claimed they had obtained a license the year before and were all of a sudden denied without reason.
The incident sparked questions to city officials from council members, bringing their attention to deeper licensing issues.
The city has been distributing food vendor licenses under two different codes, one from the Department of Health, the other from the Finance Department, according to Donna Ivy, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Department of Health approves a maximum of 20 food vehicle licenses per year, a number mandated by an ordinance approved by the city council in 2003.
The Finance Department, who distributes licenses to ice cream trucks, does not have a cap on licenses. Furthermore, applicants were able to obtain licenses from the Finance Department without going through the Department of Health, a problem Ivy says she’s trying to fix.
“The system is broken,” said Ivy. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
An explanation of why previous license holders were denied renewal for 2013 was still lacking to Tavarez.
Ivy says it’s simply a first come, first serve basis. The 5th ward councilman argued that not renewing a licensee would affect their livelihood and is unfair for people who depend on the food vehicles to survive.
“It was never like that before,” said Tavarez during the meeting. “You had priority before.”
Councilman William McKoy, who is the chair of the committee, disagreed.
“You can’t have a legacy system with a push cart,” said McKoy. “That’s why it’s a renewable thing each year.”
Mayor Jeffrey Jones, who was also at the workshop, says the conversation surrounding the licenses was not focused on the right issues. Implementing standards and creating fair work opportunities in Paterson should be the city’s priority when it comes to distributing licenses, according to Jones.
“This is a micro conversation to a larger conversation,” said Jones.
Large portions of license applicants were not residents of Paterson but of cities like Newark. Both Jones and McKoy agreed Patersonians should be the first considered to obtain a license.
“What’s the probability that we are creating an opportunity in Paterson?” asked McKoy, during the meeting. “We want to create jobs within our city.”
McKoy suggested administering license based on categories to meet the high application rate, therefore, increasing the approved vendors. Larger food trucks, ice cream trucks and food carts would all go through the same application process but allotted a different amount of licenses.
Donna Ivy says she will take the suggestions back to her committee and continue to work out the kinks of the plan.