Residents question farmers' market policy in Alton



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POLICE CHIEF PHIL SMITH (right) presents Officer Timothy Sullivan (left) with the police departmentís Officer of the Year Award during Monday nightís selectmenís meeting. Brendan Berube. (click for larger version)
July 28, 2009
ALTON — The policies and regulations governing farmers' markets came under fire during Monday night's meeting of the board of selectmen from residents who accused the board of favoring local business owners at their expense.

The heated discussion centered on the board's decision that a group of residents attempting to organize a farmers' market on Saturday mornings at the Community Church of Alton must provide the town with proof of insurance in the event of an injury occurring on the nearby street or sidewalk; secure written permission from the property owner; and acquire all necessary state licenses for the sale of meats, baked goods, and other prepared foods in order for the board to grant them a hawkers and vendors permit.

Objecting to the stipulations the board placed on the organizers of the farmers' market, and claiming that a vendor from out-of-town was permitted to set up a seasonal produce stand at the bay earlier this summer under the pretense of establishing a farmers' market, Steve Bell, owner of Precious Gardens, asked the board during Monday night's public input session to provide him with the town's definition of a farmers' market.

Stating that he saw no clear definition anywhere in the hawkers and vendors permitting policy given to him by Town Administrator Russell Bailey, Bell commented that he was involved in a farmers' market at the bay in 2005 where vendors were allowed to sell meats, baked goods, and flowers without licenses from the state.

"When did the policy change?" he asked.

Board Vice Chair Peter Bolster replied that town officials probably failed to take notice in 2005 of the fact that vendors were not licensed to sell prepared foods.

Addressing another issue that arose during the discussion, town regulations barring vendors at the bay from selling baked goods or other items that might give them an edge over nearby businesses like Amilyne's Corner Market, Selectman Pat Fuller explained that the board has had a policy in place since she first joined it to prevent vendors who are given free space on town-owned property from competing with taxpaying businesses.

Echoing Fuller's comments, Bolster added that if the selectmen are giving a vendor free space, he felt they had every right to place stipulations on what that vendor can sell.

He also noted for Bell's benefit that the board had agreed, at the suggestion of Selectman Loring Carr, to work on the hawkers and vendors policy during an upcoming work session.

"I think you need to work on it real hard, because it's not fair," Bell said, re-iterating his objection to an out-of-town vendor being allowed to set up what he considered a produce stand at the bay seven days a week.

"He's under cutting me," he added, asking again why the board seemed unable to produce a written definition or policy concerning farmers' markets.

Carr encouraged Bell to write down what his concerns were, and how he felt the board should address them.

Resident Linda Hart, who hoped to participate in the church market as a vendor, said she was told by the owners of Amilyne's Market that they had been approached prior to the meeting by a board member who said they would vote against granting a hawkers and vendors permit for the farmers' market.

"I don't understand why you can't let free enterprise happen for three or four hours on a Saturday," she said.

Bolster explained that Hart and the other organizers of the farmers' market would be allowed to put it on, provided they met the three stipulations — a $500,000 limited liability insurance policy; written permission from the property owner; and the appropriate state licensing requirements.

Questioning the need for an insurance policy, Hart asked whether other businesses in town were required to purchase insurance in order to operate on public roads.

Bolster replied that most businesses carry insurance policies.

"It's a safety issue," Fuller said. "If someone falls on that sidewalk, they're going to sue whoever has the deepest pockets, and it's going to be the town."

Directing the board to the New Hampshire Farmers' Association's definition of a farmer's market (which states that a true farmer's market must be held on neutral property, and must include at least two vendors), Hart questioned their sincerity in saying they would welcome a farmer's market to the community when existing regulations seemed to her to exclude "everything that's part of a farmer's market."

Addressing the board's reluctance to allow competition with business owners on town-owned land, Hart suggested that a successful farmer's market might have the opposite effect by bringing new people into the area who might choose to visit nearby businesses.

Honors for Alton's finest

Police Chief Phil Smith appeared before the board at the start of Monday night's meeting to present the department's Citizen Partnership and Officer of the Year awards.

The Citizen Partnership award went to bail commissioner Stephen Hurst, whose assistance Smith said has been invaluable over the past year.

Officer of the Year honors went to Timothy Sullivan in honor of traffic enforcement efforts during 2008, which resulted in 600 stops and 38 arrests, earning him a "Looking Beyond the Ticket" award earlier this year from the state Police Standards and Training Council.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board pledged its support for the Local Government Center's pending class action suit against the state over reduced retirement contributions; accepted a bid from G.W. Brooks & Son in the amount of $72,355 for the replacement of the culvert on Alton Shores Road (80 percent of which will be funded through a hazard mitigation grant from FEMA); accepted a bid of $500 for a decommissioned 1993 Ford F-350 ambulance; and approved a pole petition from the New Hampshire Electric Co-op for Alton Mountain Road.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

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