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Guests enjoy the Denton Community Market at the Denton County Historical Park in April 2018. Market officials are asking the city for an additional $100,000 to help cover salaries.

Denton Community Market executive director Vicki Oppenheim told the City Council on Tuesday the nonprofit is opening its 10th season with a $20,000 deficit.

Oppenheim disclosed the financial shortfall as part of the market’s midyear request for more money from the city — about $100,000 more. The request was scheduled for discussion two weeks ago and then postponed to Tuesday’s work session.

“We’re starting the year with a $20,000 deficit that we have to make up,” Oppenheim said. “We don’t know what the future will be, but we will do everything we can.”

The market’s midyear request follows a $41,000 city grant awarded to it as part of the regular budget year. Oppenheim said the extra request would be used to cover her salary and that of another employee. Both of them receive salaries that are supposed to reflect a part-time job, but both work more than part-time, Oppenheim said.

Most council members balked at the size of the request, especially knowing it could mean committing the city to a recurring expense outside the usual budget cycle. Council member Deb Armintor was only one to opt for funding the full request, beginning with a transfer from the hotel occupancy tax fund balance this year.

“It’s a matter of deciding, do we think their work is for the greater public good and benefits the city?” Armintor said.

Council member Don Duff was absent.

Council member John Ryan asked that the proposal come back through the city’s economic development department because the market has a long reputation of incubating new small businesses in the city. The city might be able to rebate some of the sales tax collected by vendors at the market to the market itself, he said.

Council member Gerard Hudspeth said he didn’t like the open-ended nature of the request, particularly because it appeared the city was being asked to bankroll more than half of the market’s annual budget.

“I can’t give away $100,000 and have no control and no end in sight,” Hudspeth said.

Council member Keely Briggs explained further.

“If we were to go and pay that salary, I’d want it to be a position in Economic Development to go out and help the small businesses [at the market] develop,” she said.

Council member Paul Meltzer said he’d rather see a proposal with more specific information about what the city would get for its investment.

For example, the city has various metrics in its agreements with the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Parks Foundation and other groups to boost accountability for the work they are doing in exchange for taxpayer dollars.

Saying she was not willing to see the market go away, Briggs proposed a compromise to lend the city’s portable restrooms to the market to save on the expense of renting portable toilets. In addition, she proposed a smaller grant from the hotel occupancy tax to wipe out the market’s current deficit and get the nonprofit back to level ground.

Finally, she requested that county officials be invited back to update the city on plans for the park that is home to the market because permanent restrooms have yet to be erected in the park.

City Manager Todd Hileman said he thought the staff might be able to put together some options for the restrooms. Ultimately, the council agreed the market’s request for salary support could join other supplementary budget requests for next year. Meanwhile, it referred the issue back to the council committee that reviews and recommends grants from the hotel occupancy tax fund.

Hudspeth reminded market representatives in the meeting, and those watching the meeting’s livestream, that he is a member of the HOT funds committee.

“Someone needs to email me the definition of success of the market to justify the funds,” Hudspeth said.

Briggs said she wanted to remind him that the market is a small business incubator.

“I won’t be emailing you,” Briggs said. “I’m just letting you know.”

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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