EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 16, 2013

Derry Farmers Market takes huge budget hit

Derry Town Council cuts slashes its budget

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — Fresh produce may or may not be coming to a farm stand near you.

The Derry Farmers Market took a big budget hit Tuesday night. Town councilors voted, 4-3, to cut town support of the market and its manager, Beverly Ferrante, from $20,800 down to $5,000 for fiscal year 2014. That’s a 77 percent cut.

It could spell the end of the market, which was scheduled to open for its fourth summer next month.

The market decision was part of a night of wrangling over numbers before councilors finally approved a $37 million town budget.

Taxpayers won’t see a tax rate increase on the town side. The projected 2013 town tax rate is $10.39 per $1,000 of valuation, the same as the 2012 rate.

Town Councilor Mark Osborne made the motion to slash the market’s spending plan prior to the final budget vote. He and Councilors Al Dimmock, Tom Cardon and Michael Fairbanks voted to make the cut. Councilors Brad Benson, Neil Wetherbee and Phyllis Katsakiores opposed the dramatic reduction.

The market’s opening day is scheduled for June 19, but Town Administrator John Anderson said he doubts there will be a market this summer.

He said eight vendors had committed — and paid — to participate in the three-month summer market. Another 21 vendors signed up, but hadn’t paid.

Repeated attempts to reach Ferrante yesterday were unsuccessful. She has been the market manager since it opened in 2010. Ferrante also is a state representative.

With the cut, the market’s future is unclear.

“The market would not exist,” Anderson said.

Derry’s market started in the pocket park on Broadway, designed to attract people to the downtown. Last year, the market moved to the town office parking lot on Manning Street. Winter markets are held at the Upper Village Hall.

Anderson said the market’s budget should have remained off limits because earlier reductions already had resulted in no tax increase.

“We proposed a plan to bring the budget to zero,” Anderson told councilors Tuesday. “I don’t understand why you are going after the farmers market when we are spending $176,000 on a (Taylor ) library up on a hill that (serves fewer) people.”

Anderson previously proposed zero funding Taylor Library’s budget for next year. Public outcry swayed councilors and the library budget was fully funded.

Wetherbee said targeting the market affects the life of an already struggling downtown.

“This will be creating bad feelings in the community,” he said.

Anderson said the market has been successful in many ways, including bring more people to Derry.

But others feel differently, including some of its earliest supporters.

Phil Ferdinando of J & F Farms was one of those early supporters.

But even before the council slashed the budget, the Derry farmer had made up his mind not to return this summer.

He cited 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,” Ferdinando said yesterday. “It’s just not worth doing.”

Ferdinando was part of the grassroots market planning process. The original intent was to keep the market in a visible location on Broadway, he said.

“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.”

Osborne said he doesn’t want to kill the market, just save taxpayers money. Cutting the budget doesn’t have to mean the market won’t open, he said.

“I would like to see the farmers market stay open,” 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,” Anderson said.