City grant will not expand to include food trucks

City Council opted out of offering grant funds to local food trucks.
(LOGAN TURBES/Keizertimes)

If you were one of the people who recently approached the city about using grant funds to help start up your own food truck business, prepare to be disappointed.

Keizer City Council voted Sept. 19 not to amend the city’s Community Prosperity Grant qualifications to allow applications for food truck purchasing or upgrading, citing the economic risk involved in giving funds to a business which could leave Keizer at any time in search of busier markets.

Finance Director Tim Wood said community members have approached the city about accessing the grant for the purchase of food trucks and carts, among other things, prompting city staff to put the issue before the council.

“Paying to upgrade someone’s food cart? I’m not okay with that, I’ll just come right out and say it,” said Council President Elizabeth Smith. “If it has wheels and it can leave, or you can put a bunch of money into it and sell it, I don’t think that’s the way we want to go.”

The $15,000 Community Prosperity Grant is brand new, has no current applicants, and is currently only funded for two years. Each awardee of the grant can receive a maximum of $5,000 each year, ensuring that the entire fund doesn’t go toward a single business or project. Sourced through an intergovernmental agreement between Keizer and Marion County, the money ultimately comes out of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funds.

When City Council approved the agreement in May, they asked the Community Diversity Engagement Committee to come up with an effective way to make use of those funds. The committee came back with a plan allowing funds to go toward constructing pods which could host food trucks or carts.

“We wanted to create gathering places where people could come out and be together,” said Councilor Roland Herrera, who helped set up the committee and continues to support it. “I don’t want this to go toward one particular group – I want this to benefit the whole community.  That’s the spirit of it.”

Councilor Laura Reid, who serves in an advisory role on that committee, agreed with Herrera.  She said what they had envisioned for use of the funds was a sheltered area where people could gather to get out of the weather and spend time with their neighbors. Providing logistical support for food vendors at these gathering places was the goal of the fund, rather than financing a new private business venture.

Mayor Cathy Clark agreed with regard to how the funds should be spent, and said the council consider using some of it to create permanent pods for food trucks at Keizer Rapids Park or food cart pods in the River Cherry Overlay District.

“We’re considering this for the turf field project at Keizer Rapids Park, ensuring the mobile food vendors have everything they need to operate there,” she said  “I think that would create that community gathering around food – around good food.”

City Attorney Shannon Johnson said the guidelines for the grant already favor the River Cherry Overlay District, and doesn’t restrict the funds going toward a project on city property, so he recommended the council do nothing at this time.  He said staff had been waiting on the council to decide on an amendment before making the grant available, and will now begin accepting applications from the  public with no changes.

The total funding for the grant is $30,000, with a maximum of $15,000 dispersed annually and a maximum of $5,000 per grant application.

“If we find a project that checks all the boxes, we can always come back and revisit this,” said Clark.