By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — This summer’s farmers market is a go, but its future beyond that is uncertain.
The market took a big budget hit last week after town councilors voted, 4-3, to cut town support of the market and its manager, Beverly Ferrante, from $21,800 to $5,000 for fiscal year 2014.
Councilors made the market decision right before approving a $37 million town operating budget.
The good news? Taxpayers won’t see a tax increase on the town side. The projected 2013 town tax rate is $10.39 per $1,000 of valuation, the same as the current rate.
The bad news, some say, is what to do about the farmers market.
Ferrante remains positive that this year will be a good one.
“The market is on,” Ferrante said. “This season will be OK.”
The market’s opening day is scheduled for June 19 at its Manning Street location near the town municipal center. There are about two dozen vendors already on board.
Ferrante has been the market manager since it opened in 2010. She also is a state representative.
She said running the market is a lot of work.
“I do my due diligence,” she said. “I make sure it runs appropriately.”
But paying $21,800 Ferrante to run the market was too much, some councilors said, especially with only about $11,700 in market revenue posted last year.
Where the money goes is a question. Ferrante said she only earned $12,650 from the town in 2011 and $16,252 in 2012, according to her tax documents.
“And that is for eight months of markets,” she said.
Another $1,000 was paid for assistant manager tasks setting up and breaking down the market each week. Money also went for advertising.
But Ferrante is given $20,800 for the year to spend as she sees fit, including paying herself. An additional $1,000 is budgeted for an assistant.
Councilor Mark Osborne made the motion to slash the market’s budget. He said he wanted the market to continue, but not at that price.
“It was not our intention to cancel the farmers market,” Osborne said. “I would like to see the market staying open.”
Councilor Tom Cardon also voted to cut market funding.
“We reduced the funding, we did not close the farmers market,” he said.
The market is officially funded through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. The $5,000 annual budget kicks in July 1. Where it goes after that is still up in the air.
“What that $5,000 won’t get you is a winter market or a market next year,” Town Administrator John Anderson said.
Anderson said the market has been successful in many ways, including bringing more people to Derry.
Others feel differently, including one of its earliest supporters.
Phil Ferdinando of J&F Farms said he would not be returning to the downtown market this summer, citing lower attendance and smaller profits.
“The first year was good, the second year I think attendance dropped so it wasn’t as good, and last year was terrible,” he said. “It’s just not worth doing.”
Ferdinando was part of the grassroots market planning process. The original idea was to keep the event visible and downtown.
“It was supposed to be part of the downtown revitalization,” he said. “But nobody wants to go downtown. When the market was new, people made the effort.”
Councilor Neil Wetherbee voted to keep the market’s budget intact. He said Ferrante was doing a good job.
“It’s just a great community event that we seem to be losing more and more of in today’s world,” he said. “It’s part of the reason I was so frustrated to see it’s potential demise, which we still may see after September.”
Wetherbee said it might be time to step back and re-evaluate the market.
“If, in fact, we don’t want to support the market, then the question becomes should the town even have a role in the market?” he said. “Can the private sector do a more effective job? If there had been a plan to either do the market privately or one that would make it revenue neutral, I would have likely supported it, but there was no plan.”
For Ferrante, it’s all about staying positive for the 2013 season. After that, talks will continue with Anderson and other town officials to decide what to do next year. She said support was strong, with more than 900 hits on the market’s Facebook page recently.
“I was upset before, but I’m going to let it go,” Ferrante said. “I’m thrilled with the vendors we have on board. It should be a smooth running market this season.”
The market is open once a week from June through September. A winter market runs twice a month from December through March.