Town Council Vote Guts Farmers Market Funding

The Derry Economic Development budget line survived a challenge not to be funded for 2014, while the Farmers Market, one of its components, will see a sharp drop in town funding. But its manager, Beverly Ferrante, said the market will continue, at least for this coming summer.

After a lengthy discussion at the May 14 Town Council meeting, Councilors voted 4-3 to reduce the funding for the Farmers Market from $20,000 to $5,000. But a motion to completely defund Economic Development failed, with three Councilors voting for it and four against.

Councilors Al Dimmock, Tom Cardon and Mark Osborne voted to reduce Farmers Market funding along with Chairman Michael Fairbanks, while Brad Benson, Phyllis Katsakiores and Neil Wetherbee voted against it.
Fairbanks switched sides on the Economic Development vote, and voted with Benson, Katsakiores and Wetherbee to keep the department funded.

The Farmers Market had come under scrutiny in previous budget hearings, as revenues did not keep pace with funding provided by the town. Funding for the Market was $20,000 and projected revenues were $11,000, leaving a town “subsidy” of about $9,000.

The newest Councilors, Osborne, Cardon and Dimmock, questioned whether the market was a good financial bet for Derry, while the other Councilors said it was part of the economic development strategy and drew people downtown.
At the May 14 meeting, Town Administrator John Anderson told the Council that the market had 21 vendors signed up for this coming summer, with eight paid in full. He warned that if funding were reduced that money would have to be returned, because “there won’t be a market.”

Anderson floated an idea of reducing the “subsidy” by $4,500 a year over two years, with a goal of zero subsidy by 2016. Osborne made a motion to reduce market funding by $15,000, to $5,000, which was seconded by Cardon.
“If that goes through, we will refund the payments,” Anderson said. “The Farmers Market will not exist.”
“Can’t we still keep the market?” Cardon asked.

“If you can get blood from a stone,” Wetherbee responded. Wetherbee told Councilors they would also need to reduce the projected revenue from the revenue line, “because without a market there will be no revenue.”
Osborne objected, saying there could still be a market, but Wetherbee said “We can’t responsibly budget revenue if we don’t know it’s going to be there.”

Cardon made a motion to direct Anderson to continue the market and pay the director $5,000, but it was not seconded. “This is not on the agenda,” Wetherbee said, while Fairbanks said, “We are here to discuss the budget.”
The Council voted 4-3 to reduce the Farmers Market funding to $5,000.

Anderson observed that he and Childs had already gotten the budget down to a zero increase, “and I don’t know why you’re ‘going after’ the Farmers Market. You’re willing to spend $176,000 for a library that serves fewer people.” Anderson was referring to the Taylor Library in East Derry, which survived an effort to eliminate its funding.
“Some of us must listen to our constituents,” Osborne responded. He said he had had enough of the “sky is going to fall” mentality.

“We need to decide to be fiscally responsible,” Osborne said. Contacted later in the week, Ferrante said this year’s weekly summer market would continue as planned. She can make it work for one more year on the $5,000 that was allotted in the vote, Ferrante said. Ferrante admitted she was puzzled about the $20,000 projected for her 2014 compensation. She earned $12,650 in 2011 for coordinating the market, and $16,180 in 2012.

“I don’t know where they are coming up with those huge amounts of money,” she said. “I never put in for mileage, never put in for the extra calls on my phone bill.” Her original contract was $1,000 per month, she said, when she started four years ago. But, she added, “We are going to go forward for this summer.”

Ferrante had surgery earlier this year and is restricted in the use of one arm. That created a problem for the market, she said, noting that part of the work involves setting up tables and hauling things. Before her surgery – and the budget – she had asked Anderson for a part-time assistant to do the heavy work.

“My healing process is through September,” she said. She and Anderson discussed various solutions, including taking hours from one of the Parks and Recreation lines to have someone help her on market day Wednesdays.

Ferrante has enlisted 26 vendors with a variety of offerings, she said. And people are getting the idea, she said: “This is the first year people had all their paperwork done, their liability waivers, their checks in by the first of April.”

While Anderson has said this is the last Market, Ferrante said she was still willing to discuss her arrangement with the town. She could also make it work with a larger volunteer base, she said. “I think we need the market,” she said. “I’ll probably come up with something.” The summer market will begin Wednesday, June 19, from 3 to 7 p.m., and will continue every Wednesday through Sept. 25, she said. “We are going to have one good market,” Ferrante said.

She is still in need of a couple more musicians, and those interested may call her at 434-8974. The Economic Development line had already been reduced from $50,000 to $30,000. Osborne made a motion, seconded by Cardon, to further reduce the Economic Development line from $30,000 to zero. Osborne based his action on a lack of specifics for economic growth. “If the $30,000 went through, what did you plan to do with it?” he asked.

“We don’t propose to do anything with it,” Wetherbee shot back. “John Anderson will decide what to do with it. And the fiscal year doesn’t begin until July.” Osborne said in his opinion, not enough had been done with the funds to warrant keeping them. “Year after year, it’s been throwing good money after bad,” he said, adding, “Businesses succeed by how hard people work, not by the benevolence of the Town Council.”

“I’m in favor of economic development,” Cardon said. “I’m just not in favor of putting $50,000 in with no plan.”
Benson said there had been some success, notably with the TIF district and the Ash Street project. Benson suggested a workshop on economic development, and Cardon responded favorably. But Wetherbee said, “I see no point in having a workshop for something we don’t have the money for.” The Council voted 3-4 not to fund economic development, and the $30,000 stayed in the budget.