CNY Regional Market Authority has financial issues

The Central New York Regional Market Authority’s financial position has deteriorated and will continue to see annual net losses if measures are not taken to increase revenues and reduce expenses, according to an audit released Tuesday by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

The audit found the Syracuse-based public authority, which operates a farmers market and flea market to help vendors sell their products and has programs and services to promote agriculture in the region, has seen a total net decline from $6 million at the start of fiscal year 2020-21 to $4.9 million at the end of fiscal year 2022-23. Cash available to pay operating costs declined from $502,807 to a deficit of $6,539 over the same time period.

Auditors also found the facilities need tens of millions of dollars in renovations and estimates without changes, it could have a $410,000 shortfall in commercial lease revenues by the end of this fiscal year.

In addition, the audit said the authority’s board did not properly manage the authority’s financial condition, including not developing realistic budgets, not monitoring operations and expenses, and not doing a thorough analysis before spending over $2 million on a warehouse that needs extensive renovations and has been a drain on the authority’s budget.

“The Central New York Regional Market Authority board and officials need to turn its financial operations around before its fiscal situation gets worse. I am glad they took our findings and recommendations seriously and are working on a corrective action plan,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

The audit recommends the board take immediate measures to reduce spending, increase revenues, or both; adopt realistic budgets, monitor actual results, and address shortfalls; and prioritize critical needs and fill rental space. In response to the audit, the board president said the authority agreed with the financial findings of the audit and is acting on the recommendations.

The board consists of appointees from Onondaga, Oswego, Cayuga, Madison, Cortland, Oneida and Wayne counties, as well as the commissioner of the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets.

“We’re committed to making sure that the regional market continues to play the role as it’s playing,” said Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon. 

However, the role it is playing today is not the role it needs to play, he said. 

“It’s a valuable resource for farmers. It’s a valuable resources for fresh produce and fresh food for our residents and a community space which you really can’t put a price tag on but it can do more,” McMahon said. 

Driving tourism and additiionall foot traffic to the market will in turn help family farms, McMahon said. 

“A new modern market will help support farms even more because we’ll get more poeple there and that’s really what we have to do. We have to figure out consistent revenue streams for the market, but at the same time, have this be a strong regional asset. It’s been a long time since there’s been a real investment in that market,” he said. 

Raymond Lowe, owner of Hiwire Honey in Lafayette, has sold his honey products at the market every Saturday for nine years. 

“It is certainly an essential component in our business. We have a lot of people, even people that want to get into beekeeping that stop in there, talk to us and then find out that an educational outlet actually exists and then we make connections,” Lowe said. 

Even if they don’t move a lot of product, Lowe said the connections the market offers could pay off later. Although, the market has been his largest and most consistent customer base as not all consumers want to drive to Lafayette for Lowe’s honey.

“They might love the idea of a local honey producer but are they really going to drive 15 miles to get a jar of honey? When I first started down there, I was excited to sell $50 worth of honey in one week and 10 years later, it’s really turned into something that’s a key part of my business,” Lowe said. 

McMahon emphasized that the market will continue to exist.

“To our regular farmers that rely on the market, we’re going to make sure that it’s there and we’ll work with the board, executive director and the state,” he said.