Farmers Market vendors worried about fee

The Warren Farmer’s Market is in a tough spot.

And there isn’t really anything the City of Warren can do to help.

Members of the market approached Warren City Council on Monday night to raise concern about a $50 fee that has been implemented by the city to cover the cost of a health inspection for those who bring “potentially hazardous” foods, such as eggs, meat and cheese, to the market for sale.

“We find this $50 an extra burden that takes away from our meager profits,” Carl Schultz, one of the members of the group, said. He asked that the fee be waived.

Schultz explained that the small producers pay vendors fees to participate in the markets but, in other markets, are not subject to additional inspection costs.

But City Manager Nancy Freenock said the city’s fee is a completely separate issue from any permit.

“The state law requires that anyone selling at a farmer’s market ‘potentially hazardous food,’ (is) subject to inspection,” she said. “The city has its health inspector (who) inspects for temperatures of refrigeration.

“What we are trying to do is make this revenue neutral for the city,” she added.

Four of the market’s vendors would require the additional inspection.

Councilman Sam Harvey asked if the market is charged to use the Midtown Parking Lot.

Freenock said that city staff have “bent over backwards” for the farmer’s market. She explained that the city could consider each Saturday of the market its own special event but considers all the Saturdays one event to limit the group to the $100 event fee.

“I really do believe that staff have worked diligently… to make this as painless as possible,” Freenock said, adding that the city has met with the market and State Rep. Kathy Rapp.

“Rapp’s comeback, basically, was ‘It’s the law, you have to live with it. I’m not going to change it,'” Freenock said.

Harvey asked what the city’s “real costs” are for the health inspector.

“The city pays $12,000 per year,” Freenock said, which includes inspection of all the restaurants as well as CVS, which sells milk. “The city does not break even on that,” she added.

“I think that’s an important point to make,” Harvey said. “The city may not want to be in the business of health inspections.”

City Administrator Mary Ann Nau said the city has adopted every exemption, such as not utilizing the city’s inspector for school cafeterias, that is permitted under the law.

“We hold ourselves to a higher standard than most people would begin to imagine,” Schultz said.

“We’re enforcing a state law that has been mandated on us,” Mayor Maurice Cashman said. “Generally, laws come as a result of abuse. We’re not pointing our fingers that you have done anything wrong. We have to enforce the laws.”

“We have lost 15 vendors,” Schultz said. “The Warren market isn’t just a market. It is a social event. We’re just asking that you would look at the fee and see what can be done about it.”

Nau said that each producer is considered a retail vendor by the state. “(The) majority of vendors bring raw agricultural products. The rules are the same everywhere.”