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7 January 2013

Sharp park fee increases could imperil Whitefish’s farmers’ market

Vendors at Whitefish’s summer farmers’ market are in a mood to bring their pitchforks to the city council’s meeting tonight. The source of their ire? A proposed fourfold increase in the fees they pay to use Depot Park once a week. The council is taking public comment on the proposal tonight (council packet page).

An attempt to protect the city’s parks underlies the proposed fee increases, reports the Daily InterLake’s Lynnette Hintze, but the merits of the plan have not lessened the sticker shock for the farmers:

The new event size fee charges users varying amounts based on the number of vendors.

For example, the Farmers Market last year paid $60 per week for 19 evenings, for a total of $1,140.

Under the proposed fee schedule, the weekly fee rises to $115 per evening, plus a weekly vendor fee of $200. That would increase the Farmers Market fees to $5,985 for the summer season.

If the farmers market had 26 to 35 vendors, the weekly event size fee would be $300; for 46 or more vendors it jumps to $500 weekly.

“We couldn’t possibly absorb that kind of increase or anywhere close to that,” Farmers Market organizer Rhonda Fitzgerald said, adding that she doesn’t feel the weekly market should be bundled with other big events.

“I think the Farmers Market is a different animal and needs to be handled as a partnership with the city,” she said.

The “different animal” thesis is a special pleading that didn’t resonate with me, and probably won’t resonate with the city council; nor should it. But the size of the fee increase, its justifications notwithstanding, did get my attention.

Assuming 30 vendors, the weekly cost per vendor would rise from two dollars last year to $10 this summer, a whopping 500 percent increase if expressed as a ratio, but a more reasonable sounding eight dollars when expressed as an absolute amount. The vendors incur other overhead, of course, and the new fee would add to that, so I have no idea how much a vender’s net would be decreased.

Neither, I suspect, does the City of Whitefish, which is concentrating on the costs of keeping its parks in good condition. Whether this proposal is the best way of doing that is for Whitefish to decide. But there’s a good case to be made for delaying a decision on the fee increase until more is known about the economic impact on the Farmer’s Market and other organizations that use the parks and pay the fees.