At the County Commissioners' "pre-budget retreat" on Saturday, the subject of leasing the parking lot at the Social Services Building on W. King Street came up again ... somewhat contentiously.
Commissioner Jim Deal wants to do everything possible to keep the market viable and intact, so he said he was in favor of leasing the parking lot on Saturdays during the summer to the Watauga County Farmers Market for $1, with the market paying for county costs like an attendant, clean-up, etc.
Commission Chair Nathan Miller said he thought $7,500 rent was reasonable. We can't just let the market use a county asset for free, when we could be using that asset to raise money, Miller said.
Deal: But who else is wanting to use that space? And you're not looking clearly enough at the benefit the market is to our county. We have big budget issues, but $7,500 isn't doing to make a dent in that, and killing the market will affect many people negatively.
Commissioner Vince Gable said that he'd agree to $5,000 in rent. He also said the market was for profit and that the county should not be facilitating a for-profit enterprise.
Deal said the Watauga County Farmers Market itself is non-profit, though individual vendors are making money. But no one's getting rich, and it's a service to thousands of people, Deal added.
Commissioner Futrelle said, "It would be a travesty if our actions caused the break-up of the market."
The commissioners were very aware that a new board of directors will be voted in at the Farmers Market in March, and in the end they suspended their argument, agreeing to wait until there is a new market board to negotiate with.
Clearly, there will be no unanimity going forward on (a) the value of the market to the citizens and (b) whether county government should nurture it.