After nearly six months of negotiating, a contract for management of Greenbank Farm was approved Wednesday, dispelling rumors that the publicly-owned farm was at risk of being closed.
Prior to the meeting, rumors circulated about the farm’s fate. More than 20 members of the public spoke of their strong connection to the farm and their desire to help and support the Greenbank Farm community and pleaded with Port of Coupeville commissioners to hammer out an agreement.
During the meeting, Greenbank Farm Management Group President Michael Stansbury pushed to present his proposal to the commissioners and asked that a decision be made that day.
“The arrangement and management needs stability,” Stansbury said Thursday. “Once it drags out it leaves it open for rumors and speculation.”
“Our objective was to put an end to that. There has never been a proposal to boot tenants or close the farm.”
The new five-year agreement between the port and management group initially extends the current contract terms through the end of 2015.
The port and management group came to a stalemate last month after the two parties discussed cutting the management group’s $50,000 fee. Due to limited revenue and increasing maintenance costs, port officials are struggling with balancing budgets.
Port Commissioner Marshall Bronson explained to the crowd how the port has struggled since assuming the cost of purchasing the farm, a voter-approved transaction.
The port brings in roughly $300,000 annually and pays $105,000 each year on the bond for the farm. The bond will be paid off in 2018.
“We’ve had an obligation to pay $100,000 a year and did not raise the tax base,” Bronson said.
The port manages two historic structures, the farm and Coupeville Wharf. Both are aging and need maintenance and repairs.
“We’re faced with considerable opposition,” Bronson said. “Most people want the farm, and not a lot care about the wharf.”
“Both have to balance [their] books.”
Representatives from both sides met multiple times in the last month in an attempt to find ways to cut both the port and Greenbank Farm budgets.
Under the new proposal, the management group identified several items it can assume responsibility for, including the repair/replacement of the heat pump in Barn A and deferring rehabilitation of an irrigation system.
With other cuts here and there, the management group estimates the new terms cut port expenses roughly $30,000.
“We cut some costs in terms we felt we could do,” Stansbury said.
Port Executive Director David Day, who worked with Stansbury on negotiations, said he doesn’t necessarily agree with that $30,000 figure.
“From the window he’s looking through, that’s how he sees it,” Day said. “From my calculations, it’s closer to $15,000-$20,000.”
“But it’s still a decrease.”
Another budget factor the port has to take into consideration from its end is a potential increase in administrative costs as the port assumes more management responsibility at the farm.
“I do think it’s important to understand in 2018 the farm bond is paid off,” Day told commissioners.
Commissioner Mike Diamanti spoke in favor of the proposal, saying it met the goals of what the port was trying to accomplish, and asked that commissioners take a vote.
“This is really important,” he said. “It’s critical.”
The proposal was approved unanimously.
Under the new terms, 2016 will be what Stansbury describes as an experimental time when the port will take on additional management responsibilities.
In 2016 the port will take over tenant leases and assume additional contract costs.
“The management group has been fairly independent,” Day said. “This new arrangement remodels that.”
Currently, the port pays the management group the $50,000 fee for various duties involved with what the group classifies as the managed space which makes up the public trails and open space. This oversight includes maintaining fields, weed control and general maintenance.
“It’s not just a commercial venture,” Day said. “It’s a fairly large piece of land to make sure it’s safe for people and that it functions.”
The group also collects all the rent and in return is responsible for maintaining the farm.
“Under the new system, it all changes,” Stansbury said. “2016 is our time to experiment.”
The management group collects roughly $85,000 annually in rent. Under the new terms, the port will also receive rent from the management group, bringing that total to an estimated $114,000.
With that change, the port will be responsible for additional costs including some vendor services and other contracts.
The management group will receive $117,000 annually to continue managing the farm.
This entails managing employees, dealing with tenant concerns and covering the expense of supplies such as toilet paper, paper towels, gasoline for farm equipment and poop bags for dog walkers.
The management group’s annual budget currently is around $500,000, which includes port fees, leases, grants and other fundraising endeavors.
Stansbury said the group raises about $65,000 annually.
The Greenbank Farm hosts larger island events such as the Highland Games, Back Country Horseman events and also weddings.
“Those things don’t just happen,” Stansbury said. “There’s a lot of effort that goes into those things.”
The new terms stipulate that either party can opt to end the contract at the end of each year, starting at the end of 2016, with six months notice.
This allows both sides to re-evaluate terms and seek adjustments.
“I think both of us feel the fence,” Stansbury said. “We need that flexibility.”
The new terms require both sides to work together on some of the more day-to-day operations. Both parties will also work together to seek additional grant opportunities, which Stansbury said they are already discussing in regard to heating and insulation in Barn A.
“I feel really good about the way David (Day) and I are cooperating,” Stansbury said. “If we can find some ways to improve the heating and the way it can be used, it could be a big draw.”