After reviewing a new Farm Museum vendor fee, which is criticized asexcessive by several craft and food merchants, the county commissioners said last week they don't plan on reducing the levy.

The commissioners said the fee -- 15 percent of a vendor's gross sales at a museum event -- should stay the same because the museum needs the money, and because the complaints emanated from a small portion of the vendors who work the museum.

"I do sympathize with the vendors, but looking at it from a county (financial) standpoint, we recommend it stay at 15 percent, at least for this year," said Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy.

On Wednesday, Lippy and Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said they support maintaining the fee, but delayed a formal vote on the matter until they could be joined by Commissioner Julia Gouge, who was out sick.

Their remarks came after reviewing a county Bureau of Auditing Performance study of museum and vendor financial data.

For 1991, the Department of Parks and Recreation raised the vendor fee from 10 percent oftotal sales, as part of a continuing attempt to make the museum morefinancially self-sustaining.

The museum is a 140-acre recreational preserve that portrays 1880s Carroll farm life.

In addition to vendor rental, admission fees also were increased, from $2 to $3 for adults ($1 to $2 for children). Admission for special events went from$7 to $10.

Though the new fees fetched more than $91,000 in new revenues in 1991, the museum still lost $258,000, the report stated.

"(The museum) has always operated at a loss," said Lippy. "It's just been a matter of how much."

Nonetheless, several vendors complained the new rental fee was excessive, and 10 who worked museum eventsduring 1991 submitted a "letter of concern." In response, the parks department requested the study by the auditing bureau and a recommendation on whether to reduce the fee.

Vendors say the increased admission fees hurt them in 1991 because people spent 26 percent less once they entered the grounds for special events, the report said. The study acknowledges that drop in spending, but said it was due in part to the recession.

"The economy could've played a big portion in that," Timothy D. Hartman, chief of the auditing bureau and co-author of the report, told the commissioners.

In supporting the fee, the study argues that the rental fee does not pose a undue burden to vendors. An exampled cited showed an item selling for $10 only would need to be increased to $10.50 to cover the additional fee.

Also, the vendors who signed the letter are just 7 percent of those who operatedat the museum for 1991 special events, the report said.

The report reasoned that a waiting list of 100 vendors who want to participateat museum events shows that the increased fee did not deter merchants.

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