Lake Elmo will no longer insure farmers market

The city of Lake Elmo will not be officially affiliated with the Lake Elmo Farmers Market this year, and will no longer provide liability insurance for the market.

The city discussed the future relationship between the Lake Elmo Farmers Market and the city on March 21. Council members said they were supportive of the work the volunteers have done, but are concerned about the increased liability to the city’s insurance coverage by being a sponsor.

The Lake Elmo Farmers Market was started as a project by and promoted by Councilmember Jill Lundgren after her election in the fall of 2014. The market opened in the summer of 2015 in the courtyard at Hagstrom’s in downtown Lake Elmo. Road construction in the summer of 2016 required the farmers market to move to its current location at Lake Elmo Elementary School. About 24 vendors sell produce and other products on Saturdays in the summer and early fall.

Volunteer Susan Saftle said moving to the elementary school was good for the market.

“This has helped greatly because it is located at the busiest intersection in Lake Elmo,” she said. “Our visibility and accessibility could not be better.”

The Stillwater Area School District requires the farmers market to have its own liability insurance in order to use the parking lot. In 2016, the city provided liability coverage for the market, and the farmers market was listed as an additional insured on the city’s policy.

This year city administrator Kristina Handt informed the council that if there was a claim in the future the city could incur significant costs, because the city’s deductible for liability coverage is currently $200,000.

Handt also told the council that the farmers market started charging vendors in 2016, and that those funds were accounted through the city’s petty cash account.

“It’s mixed in with all of our petty cash accounting,” Handt said. “There is no farmers market file.”

If the relationship between the farmers market and the city were to continue as it has, Handt suggested that the city would require a more formal agreement and need copies of vendors’ insurance coverage and contact information. A committee would also have to give an annual report to the council.

Mayor Mike Pearson said he and his wife have been patrons of the farmers market and would encourage the group in the future.

“I hope that whatever happens in this meeting that you continue your efforts,” Pearson said.

However, Pearson had concerns over the liability to the city and with the way vendor fees were accounted for in the city’s petty cash account. He said he’d like to see the city council’s relationship with the farmers market be similar to the city’s relationship with the Lake Elmo Jaycees or the Lake Elmo Baseball Association — very supportive but separate.

“We [the city] don’t have a place in the Lake Elmo Jaycees although they bring a value to the town,” Pearson said. “They do it all amongst themselves with no liability to the city — they are not on our insurance. … It can’t be on the city taxpayer’s risk.”

Councilmember Christine Nelson agreed the city should step back.

“A citizen had made a comment that only in Lake Elmo does something like a farmers market become political,” Nelson said. “From that standpoint, I would like to see us depoliticize it.”

Lundgren agreed, but asked for help to secure liability insurance before the farmer’s market was set to open in three weeks.

The city council gave direction to the city staff that the city should not be affiliated with the farmer’s market.

Handt said that in her previous position as the city administrator in Scandia, she worked with the Scandia Farmers Market as it uncoupled from its relationship with the city. Handt offered to help Lundgren seek advice from the organizers on the process to secure its own liability insurance.

Council members Julie Fliflet and Justin Bloyer were absent from the March 21 meeting.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]