Fair board, county grapple with budget

Most of the numbers have come in from this year's Polk County Fair and the news is not good. Unless the budget is drastically cut, the fair will need another bailout this fiscal year of about $50,000.

RICKREALL -- Most of the numbers have come in from this year's Polk County Fair and the news is not good. Unless the budget is drastically cut, the fair will need another bailout this fiscal year of about $50,000. That's higher than last year's general fund transfer of $46,000.

"We're going to look at what we can do to reduce the amount," Ray Steele, fair board chairman said.

"You can't," was Greg Hansen's blunt reply to the fair board at their Sept. 21 meeting.

Hansen suggested several ways the fair could cut costs and the board revised this year's fee schedule to bring in more revenue. To date, the annual fair revenues are short by more than $31,000 and expenses exceed the budgeted amount by about $23,000.

"We can pull out the maintenance position that's costing you $39,400 a year but you'll still have to hire someone to replace him." That might save the fair about $13,000, Hansen said. An additional $10,000 might be able to be shaved from the amount spent on repairs and maintenance, Hansen said.

"You need us to do maintenance for you but you can't afford it," Hansen said. This didn't surprise the fair board members. They've been saying that since July.

The county took over the fair's maintenance budget more than a year ago after the fairgrounds fell into such disrepair that conditions had become unsafe. Over the years, maintenance had been delayed to pay for more pressing needs. The county dipped into its insurance fund and spent almost $185,000 for new roofs, septic tanks, guttering, and exhaust hoods over the stoves. It expects to spend an additional $168,000 before all the major repairs are complete.

In exchange for the county's generosity, the fair board gave up their maintenance budget and added a full time maintenance position at the fairgrounds, paid for utilities, operating supplies and paid for the supplies needed for repairs and maintenance. The county charged the fair for these items in the form of rent, $96,000 last year. This year the rent was raised to $104,000. The county insisted on this arrangement to insure the continued maintenance of the fairgrounds so the facility would not deteriorate as it had in the past because of budget deficits.

The fair board told Hansen they still want to see the findings of a committee they appointed at the last work session between the fair board and the county commissioners. The five-member committee, comprised of Commissioner Ron Dodge, Bob Prock, maintenance supervisor, Fair Manager Tina Andersen, fair board member Nita Wilson and Hansen, is charged with defining maintenance duties at the fairgrounds.

The fair board wants to see just how much time the county puts in at the fairgrounds on maintenance projects the fair board might want to curtail in light of their financial difficulties.

Not everyone thinks it's a good idea to let the fair do its own maintenance again.

"Who would bear the liability if things are not up to code and there's an accident?" Phil Walker asked at the joint board work session Sept. 19. Walker is a member of the county budget committee which makes recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners on how to allocate the county's yearly revenues.

"The county would bear the liability," responded County Counsel David Doyle.

At the work session, Commissioner Mike Propes proposed increasing the county's annual subsidy to the fairgrounds by $20,000 for two years and then asking the voters to pass a tax levy in the 2002 November election. That extra subsidy, which would have to be approved by the budget committee, would bring the county's annual contribution up to $44,500.

"I'm convinced now that we can't keep a fair in the county that makes enough money to support itself. You might be able to break even with the year-round fair operations but not on the annual fair," Propes said.

He suggested the fair board might want to team up with another fair in order to share the burden. Propes remembered that Yamhill County had once suggested that possibility to this county as they have similar problems making a profit.

Commissioner Ron Dodge questioned Fair Manager Tina Andersen about the amount of overtime charged to the annual fair. Andersen said she didn't understand why the figure was more than $5,000 because she thought the overtime problem had been solved by adjusting the work week during the annual fair. Hansen said the county has a set work week and he didn't think it could be adjusted to avoid paying overtime but he promised to check on it.

The fair was charged $10,000 for bleachers this year that the fair board thought had already been paid. Hansen explained the bleachers could not be charged to the fair last year because they were not delivered until after July 1.

"If they had been charged against last year's budget you would have been short an additional $10,000 last year," Hansen said.

? The fair board has scheduled a joint meeting with the commissioners for Oct. 9 at 1:30 p.m. in the commissioners conference room. The two boards are expected to discuss whether to continue using county personnel for routine maintenance at the fairgrounds. The next regular meeting of the fair board is Thursday, Oct. 19, at the fairgrounds at 10 a.m.

SIDE

Every year, the Board of County Commissioners adopts a fee schedule for all county departments but this year they adopted all the fees except those charged at the fairgrounds.

"We wanted to give them a little more time to consider their fees in light of their current financial problems," Commission Chairman Tom Ritchey said.

Most of the fees at the fairgrounds are in line with competing facilities, Fair Manager Tina Andersen said but a few of them are too low.

"We're selling ourselves short," Curt Lamb, fair board member, said, referring to the $350 to $450 the fair charges to rent the main building per day. Renting the main building includes the use of the kitchen and the lower amount is charged to groups who use the space before or after 6 p.m.

Andersen said the main building fees should not be raised but she thought the rental fees for the main room were too low. The board voted to raise the fees from $200 and $275 to $300 and $375. They also decided to increase the fees for rental of the Arts and Crafts building by $50 and made some minor changes to a few other items.

The fair board eliminated the fee to rent the entire grounds as that is not possible with the RV parking and the parking lot used by the museum. The same organization could still rent all of the facilities on the same day but they would pay for each area separately.

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