The Moab City Council voted April 10 to approve a controversial fee waiver for the weekly farmer’s market and several other special events permits at Swanny Park, despite reservations about the city’s fee-waiver system and complaints from residents about park events.
“I have a tremendous amount of compassion for people who are frustrated by developments in our community and deal with noise pollution, and a feeling of being crowded in one’s home,” Melissa Schmaedick, organizer of the park’s free concert series, said in a statement to the council. “We are making a conscientious effort to address these issues, and we were making those efforts long before the petition was filed with the city.”
Forty-five residents signed a “letter of concern” arguing that there is little regulation for park event permits and that the case-by-case approval method causes inconsistencies.
Schmaedick argued in support of her event, and others, that take place in the park, saying, “The non-profit I run does a tremendous amount of community outreach and education. From an economic standpoint, we bring in over $600,000 to our events. Rather than being seen as a tourist driven event, it is very focused and driven in serving our community.”
Council Member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd acknowledged the disgruntled citizens, saying, “We knew that this was going to happen and we have not created a fair and equitable way to do fee waivers. I cannot in good conscience allow for this to happen when we have denied others.”
Mayor Emily Niehaus indicated that despite Knuteson-Boyd’s reluctance to approve the fee waiver, the issue of granting permits in Swanny remains.
“I am happy to go one item at a time because there is the event, there is the use of Swanny, and then there is the fee waiver, and we have them outlined,” Niehaus said. “I support the use of Swanny Park for the farmer’s market, and what I hear is that the fee waiver is something that for better or worse was expected, and would be a serious burden for the farmers market this year.”
Orion Rogers of the Southeastern Utah District Health Department explained this burden to the council.
“Up to this point we have yet to break even,” Rogers explained. “The first year cost the health department $8,000 to put the market on, and we collected $3,000 in fees, so we were $5,000 in the hole. The second year it was also about $8,000 to put it on, we collected $8,000, we were about $500 short that year. Year three, we expanded, and it cost much more, approximately $20,000 to put the market on and we collected $18,000 in fees.”
Because the farmer’s market already collects fees from its vendors, Rogers is hesitant to require more for participation.
“It is the feeling of the health department that providing these services, providing access to healthy foods to our community is an important role to be played. Adding an additional $2,900 would be extremely detrimental and I don’t know if it would allow the market to happen this year,” Rogers concluded. “We’re certainly not opposed to paying the fees in the future. Our primary goal is just to break even.”
“It would be consistent enough and a good gesture at the time when it seems like residents don’t necessarily feel like the city is providing for them and is providing more for tourism. It seems to be like the farmers market benefits some tourists, but it benefits more locals,” Council Member Rani Derasary said, voicing her support of the fee waiver.
Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton disagreed, saying, “As much as a want to approve the farmer’s market, I cannot say yes to a fee waiver when we have denied other people so far because we don’t have a system in place.”
The council voted to approve the motion, with members Mike Duncan and Derasary voting for it and members Guzman-Newton and Tawny Knuteson-Boyd voting against the proposal. Niehaus gave the tie-breaking vote to approve the motion.
The council voted unanimously to approve the use of Swanny Park for all proposed events, including the farmer’s market, the free concert series, and Vision Relay.