A staple at this time of the year are the bedding plants available from nurseries all around the city. These private sector companies spend considerable time growing decorative flowers from scratch, anticipating that they will be rewarded when homeowners turn up at their door.
At the same time, the city of Windsor’s gardeners spend their early spring days mimicking what the private sector is doing. Last Saturday, the civil servants had their wares for sale at the city owned and operated greenhouse at Lanspeary Park.
When the last buyers left, as the CBC reported May 5, some 20,000 plants probably left with them. The most expensive were $40 which, as a quick estimate, the city will take almost a quarter of a million dollars out of the local economy.
As the public broadcaster found out from the city’s supervisor of horticulture, Wanda LeTourneau, her staff grow, “… the product ourselves so we can charge a little bit less.”
The reason the city can charge a little bit less, is the reason it should not be competing with the private sector. LeTourneau’s operation does not have to pay property taxes, nor does it have to pay rent for its greenhouses.
Without question, the city should charge the going rate for its products. If it doesn’t, it should at least charge customers from outside the city the going rate. County residents, who pay no taxes to the city, should not get a break.
Although LeTourneau thinks it is great for her to unfairly compete with the private sector, the reality is she might be fooling herself about pricing.
Despite a lower selling price, the city still has to pay a considerable amount of taxpayer money to fund the commercial operations at its greenhouse. It still has to pay staff salaries, and probably overtime because the sale was on Saturday.
It still has to buy the raw materials, seeds, containers, and potting soil. And it still has to pay utilities, health plan costs for its employees, office space for its managers, and a whole host of other expenses that come with operating a business.
LeTourneau could argue the extra money reduces the costs to taxpayers of her operation. It is an interesting theory at best.
She told the CBC the city has decided to up the ante and is now growing vegetables as well, something once limited to the private sector, and something which has nothing to do with city beautification. LeTourneau is not only interfering in the free market but her customers are actually getting a tax break.
All taxpayers are paying for the break, but most get nothing in return. Is that fair?
She needs to tell city council the full cost of her flower and vegetable business. This should be separated out from the expenses of growing flowers to make city parks look nice.
Council should then decide if this is an appropriate use of ratepayer funds.