Farmers Market Facing Astronomical Fee Increase

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Linda Miller is the organizer of the Farmers Market at Beach Baptist and Santini Plaza on Fort Myers Beach. She’s been working frantically to get the attention of the town council over Town Manager Roger Hernstadt’s proposed fee increase, which would hit the popular Farmers Market she runs very hard.

This Thursday Miller will go in front of the town council to try to convince them to freeze a proposed special events permit increase. Hernstadt is proposing an increase from what it is now: $100 for the first day and $1 every day after to $100 per day, every day.

In 2021-2022 Miller paid a total of $700 for the Santini market, which runs from November to May, and $780 for the Beach Baptist market which runs from October to May.

The Farmers Markets at Beach Baptist and Santini Plaza are held several times per week from October through May. They haven’t had a code violation since 2015 when the town changed the code and started to ticket the church, according to Miller. She says she runs a clean operation, inspecting the market several times per day and when they close, for cleanliness and safety.

Miller calculated Hernstadt’s proposal amounts to a 12,300% fee increase on her Farmers Market.

At the August 4th town council meeting Hernstadt said the Farmers Market was benefiting from lower fees put in place to accommodate the Sunset Celebration in Times Square and that event is no longer in operation. “Now who’s benefiting from that? People who are in the commercial business of offering Farmers Markets. That’s who’s reaping the benefit of that pricing scheme.”

Hernstadt did not say the town was spending more man-hours supervising what the Farmers Market does at Beach Baptist or Santini Plaza.

Mayor Ray Murphy said these higher fees will take some of the burden off residents and what they have to pay into the general fund. He said that despite the fact that the council is also considering raising fees across the board for all other services and proposing a millage rate increase.

Councilman Dan Allers said this increase is a lot for the Farmers Market to absorb with everything else such as gas and groceries also skyrocketing in price.

Town councilman Jim Atterholdt says he doesn’t mind a fee to cover the true regulatory costs but he doesn’t see where that’s case with the Farmers Market. “These markets help to make the island vibrant and interesting during the week. Many folks walk from the surrounding neighborhoods to the markets. In the case of Santini Plaza many of the folks who visit the Farmers Market also visit the existing stores in the Plaza—which is a good thing. We should be encouraging these markets—not punishing them.”

Here’s a letter Miller recently wrote to the town council. Only Atterholt responded to the letter.

Dear Council,

On behalf of the FMB residents, visitors, vendors and myself, thank you for your ongoing support of the family-friendly, FMB Farmers Markets in operation for many years. We have been a solid, independent event requiring very little time of the Town or Fire Department.

This week our farmers market permit applications, in the hopper since 6/22/22, have been postponed so that you may consider raising our permit fees during the worst economy in 40 years further hurting small businesses that make our FMB Markets so special.

I urge you to decline this idea.

We have quietly gone along with annual increases, but this year the FMB Fire Department portion of fees went up an alarming 9x.

Chief Martin graciously agreed to reduce it to 4x but that is still way beyond a normal increase and so, naturally alarm bells are sounding with a delay and a proposed increase from the town, especially since the town permit fees, and now the fire department fees, are already the highest my group has ever paid in SWFL.

Most municipalities and governments do not group farmers markets with sponsored/alcohol events. We are talking thousands of dollars a year currently vs. a few hundred dollars a year. This is a drop in the bucket for the town but it is devastating to our vendors and our customers.

With upcoming food shortages and thus rising food prices, farmers markets are more important than ever to everyone shopping for family groceries.

Did you know our seasonal produce is picked locally a day or two before our markets? Markets are healthy options for FMB.

Farmers Markets are vital to the community, providing shopping CHOICES of unique handmade products, and fresh produce, and local foods from very small businesses. If it weren’t for our low vendor fees, these vendors would not be able to participate.

With inflation and gas prices at a 40-year-high, it’s more difficult than ever to get these vendors and their products to Fort Myers Beach, the same vendors that work extremely difficult weather conditions like outside heat, cold and rain.

Many customers thank us for having really good prices and shopping alternatives for their visiting families.

Providing work for these vendors reduces unemployment.

Shopping local pours money back into the local economy vs. shopping at big box stores responsible for shareholders.

Our Santini Market and its advertising increases business for all the operating stores and restaurants in and around Santini Plaza.

For many years we have been voted Neighborhood Favorite by locals on Nextdoor.com
Our Google Advertising gets 30K views a month for Fort Myers Beach which brings more families- more often- to FMB than any other event.

On behalf of the vendors and landlords where we operate, I urge you to re-categorize farmers market permit fees separately into a smaller price point than being lumped into the same category as much larger, grand-scale, events like Sand Sculpting, Roar OFFSHORE, Taste of the Beach, Shrimp Fest, that have:
huge budgets,
alcohol revenues,
admission ticket revenues,
50-90% hot food vendors,
big sponsors,
huge vendor fees
large locations with vendor counts above 50
lower advertising costs (a few days vs 30 weeks of advertising for farmers markets)

Farmers Markets have none of that. We are different. We are small. Our operating budget is tiny.

In fact, quite a lot of the budget goes to the town permits, the landlords and the 30 weeks of advertising that reach 30K people a week which is a positve for FMB. Last I checked, FMB charges us by the day and since we are in operation 30 weeks times 4 days a week, we are likely paying exorbitantly more than any other event, when it should be the other way around.

As you may know, Beach Baptist is a 501(3)(c) and when its market first started, there were no town permit fees so even that could be changed back to help everyone.

On behalf of the residents, visitors, vendors and small businesses that benefit from these markets, please consider reducing or freezing the fees and recategorizing the farmers market events at a lower fee than the other big events with sponsors and alcohol. It would also be great to have auto renewal on our farmers market permits due to our years of alcohol-free operation.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

Linda Miller

 

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