The Brown County Fair Board will receive no support from tax dollars after 2017, if the county council follows through on plans discussed during August budget hearings.
Since 2013, $712,000 has been appropriated from the commissioners’ tax-funded budget for fair board expenses.
The fair board oversees the day-to-day operations of the Brown County 4-H Fairgrounds and organizes and operates the fair each summer.
The board expected the county to cut funding down after 2018 but had hoped they wouldn’t cut it off, fair board President Mark Stargell said.
The fair is much healthier than it has been in the past, but it is still not self-supporting, and Treasurer Tom Allen is not sure it will ever be.
The fair board’s budget doesn’t separate revenue and expenses for the fair from other uses the grounds have throughout the year. Taken as a whole, it shows revenue for the year coming up about $13,000 short to cover 2016 expenses — and this is a recurring problem.
Allen is worried that without any help from the county, the fairgrounds will again fall into disrepair, as they had leading up to 2012 when the county stepped in.
During budget hearings in 2012, the county commissioners agreed to shift $178,000 of their budget to the fair board for the next year.In 2013, they agreed take out a $500,000 bond for construction of new buildings and renovations of old ones on the fairgrounds.
The county council set aside $178,000 each year from 2014 through 2018 to pay back that bond and also for “continued support of the Brown County 4-H Fair and Brown County 4-H clubs.”
However, as money was moved around at the county level and construction costs ran over budget, more money was appropriated to pay claims than was actually available.
In August 2015, the county had about $90,000 less for the bond repayment than it should have had.
County Auditor Beth Mulry and county commissioner Diana Biddle moved the bond repayment and fair board money into separate lines. Allen had been out of the loop on the county’s balances.
Now, the fair board’s county money not going toward the bond repayment is paying back the negative balance, Biddle said.
The final payment, for 2018, is due in December 2017. However, the original resolution the council passed would give the fair board $178,000 in 2018 as well.
During county budget hearings, county council member David Critser said he wanted to pay off the bond in 2017 and stop any further financial support for the fair board.“I’m not trying to be mean to the fair, but I think we built a new building, I think we gave them a boost, and it’s time for them to get on their feet,” he said.
Critser later clarified that the county has given financial support to the 4-H Council over the years, and he would like to see that continue after the fair board stops getting money.
The 4-H Council is a separate entity from the fair board, though the two often work together, fair board Vice President Andy Bond said. The council conducts 4-H programs and works with 4-H clubs year-round, whereas the fair board takes care of the grounds and operates the fair.
Since 2013, the 4-H Council has received a portion of the money the county gives the fair board, Stargell said. That is because of a verbal agreement reached with the county when the fair board first approached them seeking funding in 2012.
On Aug. 17, the county council asked County Attorney Jake German to draft a new resolution that would stop any further financial assistance to the fair board after the bond is paid off in 2017.
No one is discussing an immediate threat to the fair itself.After the bond payment is made, the fair board estimates it will have $35,000 of that county money to keep it afloat to the end of the year.
That’s only accounting for regular expenses, though, like insurance, utilities and grounds maintenance.
Allen’s “wish list” budget includes $47,000 worth of items like tables and chairs, ceiling fans for the pavilion, equipment to finish the kitchen, ramps and handrails and a folding divider for the exhibit hall.
When the county council first gave money to the fair board, the fairgrounds had maintenance problems that had been deferred for years, said Biddle, who was on the county council at the time.
A lot of those have since been addressed, but there is still work left to do, from posts that are rotting out in one of the barns to insulation in the pavilion area of the exhibit building.
This year, the tarps used to cover the open doorways in the exhibit building had to be replaced with fire-rated tarps, Allen said. Outlets across the fairgrounds had to be replaced because they were out of compliance with current regulations.
Some money can be made from groups renting the facilities during the weeks of the year the fair isn’t going on, but not much. The buildings are reserved several times throughout the year for 4-H activities, which take priority over any other events that could make money, Stargell said.
The board has discussed ways to increase rental revenue. The entire fairgrounds rents for about $1,500 for a weekend, Stargell said.
That’s about the cost of replacing one exhaust fan in a building.
Allen said he is concerned over the future of the fairgrounds, knowing that a single large expense could drain the cash the board has on hand.
Without money to pay bills, the grounds could be closed for both 4-H and rental use.
Still, the all-volunteer fair board never expected to get money beyond 2018, Bond said. Having it cut a year sooner is not something they relish, but they’ll make what they can with what they have, she said.