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Council members consider food concession stand fee change at fairgrounds

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Watertown City Council members agreed informally Monday night to lower the concession fee for some vendors who sell food at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

The fee has been lowered from $250 to $50 per day for vendors who sell food at smaller events such as the six Black River Valley Horse Association horse shows at the fairgrounds each summer.

Discussion about the lower fee started after Debra L. Stevenson, owner of Polar Bear Concessions, made the request in a March 7 letter indicating the $250 was “unrealistically high” for vendors at smaller events because the horse shows do not draw the thousands who attend concerts.

The food vending business’s new owner said she expected to take in only $300 to $500 at the horse shows.

“After factoring food cost, employee wages and other overhead, the fee, as it is, would cause our services at the events to be cost prohibitive,” she said.

After hearing that, city Parks and Recreation Department employees agreed a lower price would be more fair. Council members unanimously concurred; they must still formally vote on the new fee.

The change to $50 is among a series of concession stand fees and policy changes the city implemented during the past two years.

Concert promoters and the Disabled Persons Action Organization, who use the fairgrounds, would continue to pay the $250-per-vendor, per-day fee.

Meanwhile, the fee for using the Watertown Municipal Arena would remain the same. If the city’s concession stand is opened for the event, the concert promoter and the DPAO would pay $250 per vendor. They would also have the option of paying $1,000 to sell food or beverages if the city’s concession stand is closed for the event.

Councilman Joseph M. Butler wondered if council members could expect additional concession fee changes. Program manager Celia E. Cook said Parks and Recreation could ask for other changes as issues arise.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham congratulated the department for being “the success story of the past two years,” noting it has rebounded from when it was going through financially difficult times.

In April 2011, council members learned the Parks Department failed to collect tens of thousands of dollars for years. As a result, the city brought in a new management team, made a series of changes in bookkeeping policies and established new procedures for selling food and beverages at the fairgrounds.

The city also signed the Thousand Islands Privateers to play their Federal Hockey League season at the arena.

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