Council defers Farmers’ Market fee debate
The Nicola Valley Farmers’ Market will have to wait to find out if Merritt city councillors are willing to waive a weekly $50 fee for the use of the parking lot on Voght Street.
Councillors considered the local group’s request to waive the fees at Tuesday’s regular council meeting, but voted to defer the matter to budget discussions, and consider it a grant-in-aid.
“I would like to see this go to grant-in-aid, and if they want to apply for a retroactive grant for 2012 they could do that then,” said Coun. Alastair Murdoch.
Coun. Harry Kroeker was the only councillor who voted against the motion to defer it and said he would be happy to waive the fee right away.
The farmers’ market has been located in the parking lot next to the Baillie House since July 14. Initially, the move was meant to be a temporary relocation from the City Furniture parking lot during the Great Canadian Bike Rally, but the new location prompted so much positive feedback from vendors and locals that organizers decided to make it a permanent change.
Leisure Services Manager Larry Plotnikoff said the City of Merritt had negotiated an agreement with market organizers, and organizers agreed to pay the weekly fee.
“The market has decided that it is our best interest to make the move while there is still so much buzz about it in town, so we are willing to pay the fee until we can be heard by council,” said NVFM president Lucas Handley at the time.
In a written request dated Aug. 24, NVFM secretary Janet Reaney asks the City to waive the fee, indicating that no extra upkeep is required by the City.
“We do a followup each market day to ensure that the lot is left as we found it,” she said, adding that the market complements the Baillie House and drives traffic there as well.
The market, which runs for 22 weeks of the year, maintains an average of 10 vendors and usually increases by five as the season progresses. Vendors pay $10 per year for membership and $90 per year in vendor fees, so Reaney said the market can expect $1,000 of income at the start of the season, and nearly $500 more as other vendors participate.
“As you can see, we do not have an abundance of funds but are managing what we do have well,” she said in her letter. “After all our expenses, that doesn’t leave a lot for paying rent.”
By the end of the 2012 market season on Oct. 6, the NVFM will have occupied the City lot for 13 weeks, which adds up to $650 in fees. For a regular 22 week season, the total would be $1,100 at $50 per week.
During Tuesday’s council meeting Coun. Dave Baker asked what the market gets for the $50 fee.
“Do we have to clean anything up after they’re gone?” he said. “To me, they are actually a benefit rather than a detriment.”
Coun. Clara Norgaard also spoke of the benefit of having the farmers’ market adjacent to the Baillie House, which encourages people to visit Merritt’s downtown Visitor Information Centre.
Chief Administrative Officer Matt Noble, however, pointed out that the farmers’ market was still a commercial enterprise.
“They understood there would be a nominal fee, and upon locating there, they decided they should get it for free,” he said, adding that the appropriate time to consider the request would be during grant-in-aid discussions. At that time, the NVFM would make an application as other organizations do, asking for a set dollar amount. If council approves the grant, the group would receive a cheque for that amount and continue to pay their rent, with the City’s help.
“This will make the process transparent,” said Noble. “The public will see how this happens — if you just start to forgive things, they get lost.”