A curious case

0
679

Four months away from a new farmers market season and we are still no closer to knowing if the popular weekly event will have a home in Haliburton this year.

The Haliburton County Farmers Market Association and Dysart et al remain at loggerheads over the Haliburton market, which ran successfully at Head Lake Park for 11 years before being moved to Rotary Beach Park in 2023.

Market executives say the move has been a failure – with an approximate 30 per cent decrease in visitors last year. Several merchants have indicated they will not return unless the event is back in Head Lake Park this spring, HCFMA officials say.

Dysart council, it would appear, aren’t too thrilled about having the event back a stone’s throw from Highland Street. Several councillors, notably mayor Murray Fearrey and coun. Pat Casey, have expressed concerns over the location, listing issues like waterlogging at Head Lake Park on rainy days, a lack of available parking in the downtown and traffic congestion as reasons for the event’s relocation.

There has been a change in attitude recently, however. Now, council appears happy to sign off on the market’s return – providing the HCFMA pays for it.

Initially, Fearrey wanted around $15,000 for HCFMA to use the space – which has since been reduced to $4,200. Any money received, Fearrey said, would be used to rectify damages caused by market vendors and visitors.

Market officials have been left exasperated by this request. Brian Nash, a long-time board member, said aside from a few tire marks left imprinted in the grass on wet days, and a few damaged sprinklers, he’s unaware of any damage caused during a market day. He’s asked the township for proof of any damages – invoices that show work has been completed – but hasn’t received any.

A similar request from The Highlander has also fallen on deaf ears.

That does seem curious. Given how adamant Fearrey is that the association should pay, one would be forgiven for assuming there’s a laundry list of issues that have been rectified over the years at a substantial cost.

The whole situation has left those with links to the farmers market feeling singled out.

Fearrey’s comments at a Jan. 23 council meeting won’t have done much to ease tensions. First, he said HCFMA should not be considered a true not-for-profit given his belief that many of its vendors make a lot of money in Haliburton on market days. The organization does have official non-profit status with the federal government.

After it was pointed out other events that frequent Head Lake Park, such as the annual powerboat races, Art in the Park, and Rotary-sanctioned activities, have faced no such charge, Fearrey said those things all give back to the community – noting powerboat race organizers donates annually to Haliburton Highlands Health Services and Rotary has a long history of supporting important causes and projects in the area. The mayor said the market hasn’t contributed on that level.

HCFMA’s numbers state it sees around 15,000 visitors to the Haliburton market annually. Given many of those people will then shop at Haliburton stores, eat at Haliburton restaurants, and gas up at Haliburton pumps – the payback is surely there.

It should speak volumes too that several downtown businesses, as well as the Haliburton BIA, have called for the market’s return to Head Lake Park.

Given Dysart council this week approved its 2024 budget, with expenditures pegged at north of $24 million, is it really worth alienating County farmers and agriculturalists and risk losing an event that brings thousands to the downtown over a few coppers? Because that’s essentially what $4,200 is on a municipal ledger. A percentage of a percentage point.

Should council persist with an annual fee, it needs to develop a consistent fee structure for any event at Head Lake Park. Having one rule for HCFMA and another for everyone else would be a terrible look. It would only fan the flames for those who feel the farmers market is being unfairly targeted.