By Paul Gable
The Legislative Audit Council recently released a report documenting ongoing problems at the SC State Farmers Market in Lexington.
The report was conducted at the request of members of the General Assembly.
The overall conclusion of the report is that the market is unable to sustain itself without the injection each year of taxpayer dollars.
A rebuttal at the end of the report by SC Secretary of Agriculture Hugh Weathers and his department disagrees strongly with the findings.
The SC State Farmers Market has been a political football since the SCDA determined the former market site in Richland County was not viable even though $4.4 million in taxpayer dollars had been spent to develop it.
However, former Agriculture Secretary Les Tindall opposed the relocation because he said the market made money without the need of taxpayer dollars with the help of rent it received on USC football home game days from parking fees.
A resolution to relocate the site passed the SC General Assembly on May 8, 2008. SCDA officials said there was no official commitment to Lexington County until the resolution passed even though an incentive agreement for the new site had been signed by Lexington County and the developer in December 2007.
Sources familiar with the market say the amount of produce and number of farmers participating is significantly reduced since the location was moved to Lexington.
And the Lexington site was expanded by 9.73 acres in 2013 when the SCDA purchased land from SC Ports Authority chairman Bill Stern for $6.078 million. The parcel the state purchased was part of a 26.68 acre parcel purchased by Stern for $1.57 million three years before.
The SCDA also spent nearly $1 million purchasing the gatehouse to the property in a separate deal with Stern.