Opinion

Farmers market project should be up to voters | Guest Column

By BERT and DAVE MOORHOUSE

Here is a local example of “What’s wrong with America today”:

The State of Washington is tightening its belt out of fiscal necessity, eliminating jobs and cutting spending where ever possible. Even the ferries are rusting because the ferry system is short of funds. San Juan County is out of money, cutting expenses and furloughing employees to save cash. The Town of Friday Harbor is furloughing employees to cut expenses. The San Juan Island School Board is so cash-strapped that Island Rec is funding athletic programs.

With the current above-mentioned examples of government cash shortfalls, our state senator, Kevin Ranker, has managed to convince the state Legislature to partially fund the Permanent Farmers Market site to the tune of $375,000. This bill was pushed through the Legislature with only an elite few San Juan County citizens privy to its existence (thanks to our County Council member, Lovel Pratt).

This project will fund a “market” for an undeserving few from the pockets of the many. To make it worse, the San Juan County Land Bank is planning to fund the balance of this project to the tune of some $400,000.

The Land Bank was approved by the voters of San Juan County primarily to purchase real estate and easements to retain vistas and to preserve property for public benefit. The Land Bank has mishandled public money in the past (example: the purchase of four commercial lots in the Town of Friday Harbor on the corner of Malcolm Street and Argyle Avenue. The Land Bank is currently trying to sell the lots, which are worth far less than they paid for them). Now, the Land Bank plans to plow money into this project expecting to spend more than it can possibly appraise for. The Land Bank is also committing to fund annual maintenance of this facility in perpetuity.

It gets better: They plan to build an adjacent park with picnic tables and outside seating. Friday Harbor already has several empty parks (Cahail Park, Sunken Park, West Street Park, Memorial Park, etc). Fairweather Park and Memorial Park attract people because they have a view of the waterfront. Sunken Park even has barbecues which are rarely used.

To make it worse, the Town of Friday Harbor is planning to grant exemptions from town codes for this project. First, the town is not requiring the widening of Nichols Street and the installation of standard curb, gutter and sidewalk in order to preserve this “historic” (spelled “junk”) building. The town is also not requiring public restrooms in this public facility because of the town public restrooms in Sunshine Alley. Most important, the town is not requiring this entity to provide any vendor or customer parking. Instead, the town is considering making Nichols Street a one-way street with angle parking. Once again, the town has two sets of rules: Any private citizen or developer would be allowed none of these exceptions. Don’t forget, this project will take the property off the real estate tax rolls.

Is spending more than $800,000 on a Farmers Market in Friday Harbor fair to the citizens of San Juan County? Of course not. This facility will benefit only a very few at the expense of all of us. The citizens of San Juan County already own – free and clear – a county fairgrounds only a few blocks away. The Fair Board has encouraged this group to move the Farmers Market to the fairgrounds where parking is plentiful and the facility is underutilized.

We are all in favor of the Farmers Market, however, this pie-in-the-sky dream makes no economic sense except to those who proposed it to Kevin Ranker. The Friday Harbor Town Council considered financing this project with hotel-motel tax funds, but came to its senses and said “no”. This project makes as much sense as the $3 million dock purchase (which would appraise for about half that amount) at the Orcas ferry landing which 1 or 2 percent of San Juan County citizens use.

The only fair and equitable way this project should proceed is by a vote of the citizens of San Juan County. After all, it’s their money!

That, my friends, is a current example of why government is broke today! It’s time to start saying “no” to frivolous extravagant expenditures no matter how warm and fuzzy they may seem.

Community Events, April 2014

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