Farmers' market relocation talks heat up
A High Country tradition is going through some changes for the 2012 season.
The Watauga County Board of Commissioners is debating whether to let the Watauga County Farmers' Market relocate to the county-owned parking lot outside of the Social Services building.
While the board agrees that the market serves as a valuable resource, commissioners are debating how much to charge the market to use county-owned property.
A figure kicked around by board chairman Nathan Miller: $7,500. That would include more than $3,000 for parking lot maintenance, but, Miller said, the wear and tear caused by tent stakes and setup may not be covered, hence the extra rent.
"That sounds like way too much for me," commissioner Tim Futrelle said.
Democrats had discussed letting the market rent the property for a dollar, plus maintenance fees.
That's way too little, Miller said.
"The county sees no benefit," Miller said. "Even if we only charged them $1 a year plus the maintenance worker ... we're still going to have increased cost on the wear and tear of the parking lot," he said. "I'm just trying to be a good steward of the taxpayer property, plus every little penny helps toward our budget problem."
"I understand their point," Futrelle said, "but we need to talk more with people from the farmers' market to see how much they can pay."
Currently, the market is paying about $10,000, Miller said, to rent the space at Horn in the West, hence the need for a new, more economical location.
"I think there's a happy median ... that we could come to," Miller said.
While the Watauga Farmers' Market itself is a nonprofit, the individual farmers do profit off the market. That's the crux of his argument.
"Some of (the farmers) are from Watauga County ... but a lot of them are from surrounding counties, which is fine... but at the same time ... I'm not going to give away the farm to out-of-town people when we have local people and local stores that sell food and vegetables and bread," Miller said.
While Futrelle said the commissioners need further discussion before coming to any conclusions, he did make his feelings on the issue known, both at this past weekend's budget retreat and on the phone to The Mountain Times.
"It would be an outright travesty to this community if something happened to where this market were not allowed to continue and even prosper," Futrelle said. "To me, that's not negotiable ... We need to be fair to other groups and organizations but ... the way I look at it, the farmers' market provides a great service to this community ... You can go to the market on any weekend, and good luck finding a parking space, because it's going to be full."
This summer the market will stay at Horn in the West. But next summer?
It depends on what the Watauga County commissioners have to say.