Invermere councillor Justin Atterbury has submitted the following opinion piece in light of the criticism and controversy stemming from councils recent decision to go with a different operator for the downtown farmers market this summer:
Re: Market Mayhem
Theres been some controversy since the last Invermere council meeting regarding councils decision to approve the special events application by the local Legion to run the downtown farmers market. Ill be honest and say I have pushed the concerns of the farmers market and its financial transparency. I realize this doesnt make me a popular person and there are a lot of people angry about this decision, but Ill take the heat and try to explain why.
When I was first elected in the fall of 2011 numerous downtown business owners voiced their concerns to me regarding the fees the market organizer paid the municipality to have a prime piece of publicly owned real estate on the 13 busiest Saturdays of the year. This wasnt to voice disapproval of the market itself. It is an extremely valuable asset to our downtown with fantastic vendors offering items unique in Invermere. Instead the concerns were regarding what the taxpayer was subsidizing to have the market operate and if it was truly acting like the not-for-profit it said it was.
Heres the thing with taxation, there is never enough money to pay for all of the things a municipality needs. If somebody is exempt from paying his or her share of taxes, then that burden falls on all the other taxpayers. The District of Invermere has a street vending policy to make sure all businesses, no matter how small, pay their fair share. Our policy charges a street vendor using public property a monthly rate of $200 per month per stall or a daily rate of $30/day if you only need the space for one off events such as only on Saturdays. We allocate approximately 60 stalls for the farmers market for each Saturday for the 13 weeks of summer. Now at regular rates the farmers market would be paying to the district $1,800.00 ($30 x 60 stalls) per Saturday and $23,400.00 for the season. (I realize this amount may seem high and is negotiable with council approval. I personally think an $8 – $10 fee per day per vendor would be sufficient with enough money left over to run a successful market. This would generate close to $8,000 in revenue for the district per season).
Instead of charging the above mentioned rate, historically the district chose to charge $600 ($46 per week) for all 60 stalls for the entire season. This works out to be approximately 77 cents per stall per Saturday. The reason for this was because the market was run as a not for profit. and the lions share of the revenue would go back into the community thru grants-in-aid etc. In the first few years, the original market organizers did a great job of this and the community benefited greatly from the money raised. At some point though that changed.
In my four years on council, with meetings every year in which we asked the market organizer for documentation and receipts proving that money was being donated back into the community (and so justifying the taxpayer subsidy), we were provided with little to no evidence. When we then requested that the organizer should become a for profit business and pay the appropriate fees, we were met with complete resistance.
The previous market organizer charged between $25 – $35 per stall to the vendors each week which is a fairly standard rate so the vendors are paying their fair share. The markets 60 stalls at $25 per week per stall equate to a weekly revenue of $1,500.00 for the Saturday morning and $19,500.00 for the season. Currently $46 of that revenue each week goes to the district. If this was a licensed for profit business it wouldnt matter how much money she made or charged, but because she operates under the umbrella of an unregistered not-for-profit and receives a taxpayer subsidy on public property, then it becomes the right of every taxpayer to know the financials.
The market brings a lot of traffic to our downtown and brings in money that would not be spent otherwise. Since it is so successful, it shouldnt have a problem donating a substantial amount of money back into the community to justify the taxpayer subsidy or pay a business tax rate like any other street vendor. From a residential taxpayer standpoint it wouldnt be fair if your neighbours house got to avoid paying annual property taxes because they said they were donating money to the community, but year after year never showed any receipts.
I understand the change in market organizers will be confusing to a lot of the vendors and concerns will be raised about what they should do. My advice to them is that the location and times of the market are going to be exactly the same. The Legion has a great group of volunteers to help facilitate all of your needs with back up support from Invermere events coordinator Theresa Woods. Your spots will still be allocated to you and the farmers market philosophy of make, bake, grow will be strictly adhered too. The show will go on.
After close to four years of trying to get financial transparency I stand by councils decision and believe that the Legion will do a fantastic job of maintaining the success and vibrancy of the downtown farmers market. I am also very confident that going forward the lions share of the revenue will be returned to our community thru a legitimate registered not-for-profit society in exchange for the taxpayer subsidy of a prime piece of real estate during our busiest time of year.