Food truck fairness

Residents of Mount Desert will be asked to rule on a proposed food truck licensing ordinance when they gather for town meeting next week. While the question may seem simple on its face, the situation is more complicated than simply allowing a few fledgling food businesses to set up shop on town property.

The proposed law attempts to specify how many trucks would be allowed, and at what locations. Supporters suggest that the trucks would inject some life into the waterfront areas and that this fairly recent trend will be welcomed by the traveling public.

But for established restaurants and food service businesses, these trucks, with their comparatively low overhead, are a major threat. While all businesses in this Internet age face major disruptions, the difference here is that this one may be brought on through a public decision.

Some may argue that food trucks won’t steal all of the existing restaurants’ and food stores’ business. That may be true. But allowing mobile vendors to eat even a small portion of an existing business’ “lunch” might well cause some to starve.

To avoid tipping the competitive balance, food trucks probably should be charged a licensing fee close to what a fixed-base operator pays in property taxes. And it also should be based on the value of the prime, high-traffic, waterfront locations the town is talking about leasing to mobile vendors.

As a community, Mount Desert has made strengthening itself, as a viable year-round town, a top priority. Allowing food trucks to siphon off cash in summer, all in the name of being trendy and cool, may guarantee that Main Streets in places like Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor will be cold and dark the rest of the year.

Food trucks are fun. They are cool. The diversity of cuisine they might offer seems attractive. But the town’s long-established commercial districts, that for years have served the community faithfully, also deserve full consideration.

Balancing those interests will be the overriding issue before the voters at Mount Desert’s town meeting.

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