Sunday, May 15, 2022

​Columbia Borough launches search for full-time market manager in 6-1 vote

Columbia Borough Council voted 6 to 1 to hire a full-time market house manager at $79,803 a year (salary and benefits) at last Tuesday's council meeting.

Council was originally poised to vote on creating a part-time market manager position for 28 hours a week at $20 an hour, but councilman Eric Kauffman voiced concern that 28 hours was not enough to do the job successfully, and $20 an hour was too low. Kauffman proposed hiring a full-time manager instead. 

There were concerns about funding the new position, however. Borough Manager Mark Stivers said revenue from stand holder leases will cover the cost of some of the salary, but noted "We are spending more than we are generating right now, and that's not uncommon." He added that operating the market will cost more than what it makes for several years but believes the market is an investment and an asset to the community. Currently, the market is open to the public one day a week.

Council President Heather Zink said stand holder revenue for the rest of the year will be $57,399 if all stands (including 4 not yet created) are rented out - which they are not. Finance Manager Tammy Bennett estimated there will be a $25,000 to $28,000 shortfall this year, but Kauffman didn't agree with the figures, noting there will be a lot of things that will change, including foot traffic and events. He conceded that not all stands have been rented out, but said he believes market house events generate more revenue than stand holders do.

Zink said, "I'm not ready to let the market house die. We haven't even gotten the RACP money [for] it yet. [We] cant just let it die."

Stivers said the borough won't receive the $1.75 million RACP grant until 2023, most of which is allocated for the market house renovation. [RACP stands for Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. The 1:1 matching grant was awarded to Columbia Borough in 2019, but the borough likely won't get the funds if it pulls the plug on the market.]

Mayor Leo Lutz, who said the market is in a problematic state, was in favor of the new position. "Do this now, or forget about it," he said. "I don't vote, but I would bite the bullet and say give it a shot."

Bennett was concerned about funding the position. “We've just got to figure out where the money's coming from,” she said. “I know there's none there yet.”

Resident Frank Doutrich questioned the need for a full-time manager, as well as the proposed salary. "Where did this come from?" he asked. "What are you people smoking? Where'd you get that figure from?" Doutrich noted that the proposal jumped from the original 28 hours to full time, seemingly out of nowhere. "Down the road I think I'm just going to see a big tax coming, but I hope not," he said.

Councilor Sharon Lintner was the only no vote. She said she had planned to vote for a part-time position, but did not agree with the need for full time.

A new market manager will need to be installed by July 1, 2022, because CHI, which currently manages the market, has announced it's terminating its agreement with the borough on June 30, 2022. In addition, it will no longer provide $65,000 a year towards operation of the market, so adding that amount to the $79,803 proposed salary will be a "double whammy" for the borough. (CHI stands for "Catholic Health Initiative.")

Although council expressed a sense of urgency in finding a new manager, Columbia Spy could find no advertisement for the position as of May 15, 2022.

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