The meeting agenda had originally listed an item to "consider approval to send the Market Trust a letter ending the agreement with the trust effective December 31, 2015." After much discussion among councillors and trust members, however, that measure was voted down. Council instead voted five to two on a motion to extend the trust's contract by one year under the current agreement. Council President Mike Beury and Councillor Stephanie Weisser voted against the motion.
During the discussion leading to the vote, Cleon Berntheizel, chairman of the trust, noted that last year the trust had asked the borough for support in applying for a grant and initiating a capital campaign to raise funds for renovations to the inside of the Market House building. These initiatives were to be the start of moving forward with Phase II of the Market House Study of 2005, to which the borough offered its support. He explained that the grant subsequently got held up at the state level. "We are back on for that [the grant] this year. We don't know where that stands," he said and added that the trust doesn't know if they will receive the grant.
Under the guidance of a consultant, Ken Kauffman, the trust had considered converting Columbia's market to a "green farmer's market" with fresh produce and other items, but is now considering a mixed-use market. The green market proposal called for renovating the market's infrastructure by upgrading the electrical and water systems including additional sinks and refrigeration units. Berntheizel said the proposal for mixed-use is to explore options that could complement the market. "All we are doing is an experiment or just to see what might be the possibilities out there," he said. He added that the trust is not looking at closing the market. "This is just an exercise to see if this makes sense and if there's somebody out there that we can do a mixed use with."
Several councillors noted that the trust had not fulfilled some of the terms of the agreement. Councillor Barry Ford pointed out that the trust had not given adequate notice of its meetings and did not send quarterly reports. He also said the trust had not promoted the market as much as stand holders do.
Trust members replied that meeting notices had been emailed and that quarterly reports and meeting minutes were sent to Acting Borough Manager Ron Miller. Berntheizel said the reason the trust had not done much to promote the market was due to lack of advertising dollars. He said they had asked the borough for funding last year but had been turned down. "If you don't have advertising dollars, you don't advertise," he said.
A stand holder said vendors have taken it upon themselves to advertise, but noted there was quite a large drop in support from the community. She said several vendors have left, and several who were supposed to come did not.
Jeanne Cooper, vice-chair, said, "I didn't know that we were responsible for advertising. If any of the landlords on Locust Street are responsible for advertising for any of the people who rent their property, I don't think they're aware of it." She also told council that the trust needs time to work through these things. "Until we get that grant that we can't do the inside, there are so many vendors that we can't get in for a green market." She also informed council of the trust's two meetings a month, on second and fourth Wednesdays.
Councillor Kelly Murphy added that if one in ten households in the borough shopped at the market on a regular basis, council would not need to be having a discussion.