In light of concerns over escalating costs for prospective farmers market booths, county supervisors Tuesday directed staff officials to revisit the health permit fees at the event for next year.
Supervisor Anthony Botelho asked to have the agenda item put for Tuesday’s meeting to give a chance for environmental health staff members and the manager of the farmers market to address the issue of health permits.
This year was the last year in a five-year incremental increase for health permits, and according to the market manager Tammy Jackson, the increasing fee has been a deterrent to some vendors.
Jackson said two past vendors did not sign on for this summer’s market because of the fee. She listed about eight other vendors that inquired about the marketing would have sold caramel apples, another for salsa and several others who also declined to join the market.
Darryl Wong, the interim director of environmental health, said the fee for a temporary permit at the farmers market is $464. Most vendors are eligible for an annul permit for $402 that is good for the farmers market and other special events in San Benito County.
Wong said health inspectors come back week to week to spot-check the vendors who are serving hot food as well as those offering samples of cut fruit or vegetables. The requirements for vendors to serve prepared food or samples are based on the state Health and Human Safety codes, Wong said.
He said in 2008, there were five vendors that required a health permit at the farmers market. This year there are 35 vendors who require a health permit for their booths at the market. Of those, 16 also use their permit at other locations or events in the county.
Wong noted that San Benito’s fee is the lowest of the surrounding counties, with Monterey County’s health inspection fee coming in at $571, Alameda County at $991 and Santa Clara at $552.
“Monterey County has 15 markets,” Jackson said. “(The permit can be used) at 15 different locations. Six of them are year-round.”
She said San Benito has only six special events for the entire year so there are much more limited options for vendors to use the permit. The Hollister market runs from May through September.
Jackson said vendors who have wanted to sell sealed goods, such as a tea vendor and Girl Scout troops that wanted to sell excess boxes of cookies, were also deterred by the health permit fee.
“We have a lot of room to grow,” Jackson said. “We get about 2,600 people a day. It has grown, but we would like to grow it more.”
Supervisor Jerry Muenzer suggested a prorated event that would allow vendors who are using the permit for a limited time, such as five or six months of the year.
“I appreciated what you did to determine the cost of fees here to recover costs, but I’m not sure we should recover a year’s fee for a five or six month market,” Muenzer said.
Maria Corona, the interim director of Health and Human Services, said that in the fifth year of the increase the department will be conducting a fee study.
“We can see if this is feasible,” she said.
Supervisor Margie Barrios suggested looking into changing the fee before the 2013 market starts.
Supervisor Jaime De
La Cruz did not comment on the fees, but asked how Jackson decides which vendors to allow into the market. He said he had received a call from a baked potato vendor who was not allowed to join the market.
“We don’t have enough revenue to have two identical booths,” she said.
She noted that each booth sells something different. Though there are two strawberry vendors, one sells organically grown fruit while the other sells conventionally grown fruit.
“As for another tri-tip or chicken vendor, there is not enough people or money coming in,” she said.
De La Cruz asked if local vendors get preference.
“The thing is, when I started four years ago, I contacted all the local farmers,” Jackson said. “It was known as a small market. I was frustrated because no one wanted to talk to me.”
She said she has some outside vendors, such as a cut flower merchant, who has been with the Hollister farmers market for 19 out of its 26 years.
“I’d like to give preference to San Benito County (vendors), but I can’t kick out a long-time vendor,” she said. “I have a waiting list and I give preference to locals” when a spot becomes available.
She said she considered all of San Benito County as local.
Bringing the conversation back to the fee schedule, Botelho said he did not want to deemphasize public safety.
“The fact of the matter is people who serve food at the market are professionals,” he said. “They know how to serve food. I don’t want to take away some of the variety.”
The supervisors directed staff to review the fee schedule and look into a prorated fee schedule for the market.