COLUMBIA — The Department of Agriculture will lease space to farmers at the State Farmers Market, angering a private company that says the state should not be competing with businesses.
The State Budget and Control Board agreed Thursday to pay Bill Stern, the chairman of the State Ports Authority, $7 million for nine acres at the State Farmers Market in Lexington County. The sale includes a 31,090-square-foot wholesale vendor building, two produce sheds and the market’s front gatehouse.
Farmers Market Properties, a private company, already leases space to farmers at the Farmers Market.
Company president David Nidiffer wrote budget board members that his company could not compete with the state. Nidiffer said his company pays $40,000 a year in property taxes – the cost of which is passed on to tenants. But state-owned property is exempt from property taxes.
Also, Nidiffer said his properties have an assessed value of $3.6 million. Now, the state is paying $7 million for property just across the street. That, Nidiffer said, “will cause our property taxes to skyrocket.”
“(The state) need(s) to buy us both or not buy any of us. I cannot compete against you guys,” Nidiffer said. “It’s really scary for us. I mean, it’s short of terrifying.”
Gov. Nikki Haley, who is also chairwoman of the Budget and Control Board, voted to approve buying the Farmers Market land. She said the point is to save taxpayers from having to spend money to support the market, not compete with private businesses.
This fiscal year, for the first time, lawmakers gave the market $300,000 in taxpayer money to help pay for its operations. Now that the state will be leasing sheds to farmers, it will be able to use its rental income – not taxpayer money – to help pay for the market’s operations, Haley said.
“We don’t need taxpayers funding it,” the governor said Friday. “This (sale) will make them self-sustainable, and that is in the best interests of all taxpayers and all businesses.”
Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said he expects the state to make a roughly 7 percent return on its investment, adding, “That’s pretty good.”
He said the state would charge rates comparable to those charged by private businesses, saying “there is no incentive” to charge less. “The whole reason for generating the income stream is to cover our expenses but also to improve the market going forward.”
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.