New law limits food fundraisers

SAN BENITO — For years, many churches and ball clubs have been grilling up street-side dishes to raise money.

Without paying city retail sales taxes, they buy temporary food permits for $25 to $50 to sell chicken plates with a South Texas zest.

Within the past year, some church groups have held more than 100 street-side fundraisers.

Then last month, Mayor Ben Gomez claimed some of the food stands are cutting into local restaurants’ business.

After weeks of debate, city commissioners last night voted to limit the number of fundraisers for food vendors to six per calendar year.

“It was done in support of local businesses and groups,” City Commissioner Carol Lynn Sanchez stated before the meeting. “I believe this will be a positive step for our local taxpaying businesses. We want them to succeed.”

The new ordinance also prohibits vendors from selling their wares on the street.

“No vending will be allowed from a residential property, vacant lot or vacant business or on any street, right-of-way easement, sidewalk or alley,” states the ordinance, which exempts city-sponsored events.

The ordinance also exempts organizations with ongoing city agreements for recreational services such as the San Benito Boys and Girls Club and the San Benito Youth Baseball League from paying permit fees.

As commissioners debated whether food stands were eating into local restaurants’ business, Sanchez stood up for children who sell chicken plates to raise money to travel to sports competitions.

“My biggest concern was protecting our community’s children ensuring that fundraising for their activities would not be impacted,” Sanchez stated. “Our kids accomplish great things and I want our community to be able to support them.”

Cities cap numbers

Across the Rio Grande Valley, many cities have placed limits on the number of annual street-side fundraisers organizations can hold.

Already, the state Comptroller’s Office caps a nonprofit organization’s tax-exempt fundraisers at two.

At City Hall, officials are warning residents who apply for temporary food permits the city is checking to see if they are paying their state sales taxes.

Assistant City Manager Fred Bell has said officials are revising the application process to require vendors provide the sales tax identification numbers issued by the Comptroller’s Office.

Vendors react

In San Benito, where food stands have been grilling up barbecue plates for years, many organizations have counted on their sales to help fund their organizations.

“If this law passes we don’t know how we’ll pay the bills,” Pastor Hugo Olvera of Templo Puerta Del Cielo said before the meeting.

According to city officials, the nonprofit church group held four fundraisers from Jan. 12 to March 8 to “pay church bills.”

“People sell chicken plates to help pay the bills of the church,” Olvera said. “For nonprofit churches, it’s unjust.”

Last year, Precious Anointing Ministries held the most fundraisers — 108, city spokeswoman Martha McClain has stated.

Rene Aguilar, the church group’s chief executive officer in McAllen, said the new ordinance will hurt the poor and homeless.

“They’re getting a little bit selfish,” Aguilar said of city officials before the meeting. “The city is cutting down on people getting help. There are a lot of homeless down there who need a place to go to eat.”

According to McClain, Triple J Grillers held 38 fundraisers — last year’s second-highest number.

Jaime Gonzalez said his Triple J Grillers have been helping local churches for years.

“I like to help people,” Gonzalez, who runs the popular trailer grill, said before the meeting. “I quit doing it. I had people calling me — ‘You deal with the city. I’m not doing it anymore.’ It’s politics.”