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Farmers markets protest county fee

Uproar is part of comprehensive fee changes by officials

Clackamas County farmers market organizers are unhappy with a proposed $520 fee that they say could hurt fledgling markets.

County officials proposed the fee as part of various changes to the county's comprehensive fee schedule that could help bridge millions of dollars in budget deficit. Advocates for farmers markets in the county say that unlike a new fee for food carts, which also is controversial, farmers markets provide healthy food and need all the support they can get.

"Clackamas County is very focused on the health of the community, so this is really counter-intuitive to all the good that they're trying to do in the county," said Jackie Hammond-Williams, manager of the downtown Oregon City Farmers Market.

Hammond-Williams pointed out that the proposal seems in opposition to Clackamas County programs, such as grants that purchased thousands of sprouts for a Veggie Plant Give-a-Way at the market on Saturday, April 7.

She also said that it's often a struggle to open a farmers market, especially in unincorporated areas, so the new fee would hurt fledgling markets.

The only upside for the county, she said, is that a couple of markets in unincorporated areas would have to struggle to pay a fee that would get the county little more that $1,000 to patch a huge hole in its budget.

"It really is a crazy step for them," Hammond-Williams said. "The bottomline is, how many markets are going to set up in the unincorporated area, maybe two?"

Tom Salzer, manager of the Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District, wrote to express concern about the fee. Vendors at markets bear the cost of complying with regulations and permit requirements, but Salzer doesn't see a connection between costs of the county and local farmers markets.

"Our concern stems from not understanding the basis for such a fee," Salzer wrote. "What are the costs needing to be offset by this fee for services provided by the county to farmers markets? Why is there a flat fee no matter the size of the market?"

The conservation district provides financial assistance to farmers markets in the belief that helping local farms operate profitably means that land will remain in agricultural use and will be better managed than the alternative: abandoned, weed-filled, eroding lands.

"Farmers markets also provide an economic benefit to the communities where these farmers markets operate, both through the payment of property taxes by farm operators and by customer purchases at businesses located near these temporary markets," Salzer said.

He urged the county to avoid adding another financial burden to local markets that are already struggling across the county.

April 3 meeting to look at fees

A study session is scheduled at 11 a.m. Tuesday, April 3, to discuss fee options, and temporary farm stands will be part of the discussion. Public testimony on the complete comprehensive fee schedule, which could include the farmers market fee, will be heard May 23, starting at 5:30 p.m., at the Development Services Building, 150 Beavercreek Road, Oregon City.



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