BY DONNA WESTFALL
The Del Norte County Fairgrounds is a quasi governmental agency under the umbrella of the California Department of Agriculture. For the past 80 years they have been funded by horse racing revenues. In 1990, the Fair Fund grew to over $100 million. Then horse racing declined and along with it funding for the fairgrounds throughout California.
The fairgrounds is host to a number of programs including the Saturday Farmers Market which has become popular for it’s fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers as well as artisans and food vendors. But if the fair closes, they will have to find another location.
Since 2011, when income virtually stopped from the State, Fair Manager, Randy Hatfield states, “We’ve cut expenses line by line. Everyone is on part time. I’m the only full time employee left. We put money into reserves and have enough to continue through 2016. I’m in touch with other fairgrounds in all the other counties and we’re watching closely to see if anyone has come up with a permanent solution. So far, nobody has.”
Competition with other events taking place in Oregon affect the amount of tourists coming into Crescent City. This Fairgrounds needs a constant guaranteed revenue source throughout the year. Creating a sales tax may be one way to help fund the fair for the next seven years. The Verizon Wireless tower generates $1800 a month in addition to income on a 5 year lease from Java Hut. If the Fairgrounds were able to duplicate those types of enterprises, they wouldn’t need to go to the taxpayers. But new businesses are not coming into this County and setting up shop at the fairgrounds.
Hatfield goes on to explain that even when businesses want to set something up on the fairgrounds, the red tape and time involved has seen them bailing out and going on to other locations.
Does the fairgrounds have a chance if they divorce themselves from the government? In other words get out from under the thumb of Sacramento. Perhaps.
What are the chances of that happening? It will happen eventually.
Getting back to being a quasi government agency used to dealing with the government mind-set, this Fair Board is looking to create a Special District or Joint Powers of Authority.
Special Districts come under LAFCO which means Local Agency Formation Committee. While I sat on the LAFCO Board for a while as a part of being a council member, I could never really grasp why the Board existed. It seemed to me that the facilitator had an agenda and looked for rubber stamped approval from the board. Coming from a business background, it all seemed odd to me. But I wasn’t on the board long as my fellow council members censured me for griping and complaining about alleged fraud and corruption on the wastewater treatment plant and kicked me off all boards. So, I didn’t really get a good feel and in depth understanding of LAFCO.
The JPA or Joint Powers of Authority is the mechanism that operates the Solid Waste Authority – the dump. Again, as I reviewed the history of that JPA, it looked to me like it needed to be eliminated. I watched as council members and board of supervisors would re-appoint themselves to the board year after year. I saw as they voted to pay themselves and then give themselves raises called stipends. I watched and wondered why they were not digging into some obvious problems taking place at the dump like going to computer and stop using pencil to record daily revenues which was a red flag to me for stealing. Since then, those obvious problems have been dealt with and stipends stopped.
Maybe it’s just because it’s Crescent City/Del Norte County and that’s the only way they know how to do business. Which means that they get away with increasing the rates to some of the highest tipping fees in the state instead of taking a red pencil and slashing positions and expenses and contracts left and right.
Does it make sense to create a special district or JPA for the fairgrounds? Probably not. Here’s why. The Fairgrounds is 90 acres of mostly unused land because it’s marshland and no one has figured out how to make it a profit center. That’s a lot of acreage. With deferred maintenance and $20 million needed to bring the fair up to a competitive facility, it just doesn’t make much dollars and sense to think that creating maybe a few hundred thousand dollars from increased sales tax is going to do much more than keep the doors open on a limping operation.
The Fair started out in 1892 in Smith River and moved to it’s present location in 1920. It’s had a good run. There’s enough money in reserves to last for the next two years. If Measure F doesn’t pass, let’s see if the Fair Board has a good option B.
HOW HAVE OTHER AREAS RESPONDED TO INCREASING THE SALES TAX TO KEEP THEIR FAIRGROUNDS OPEN?
August 5th, 2014: Boone County in Missouri, voters rejected an eight-cent sales tax to keep the fair open with 66% of the vote. The fair was booked 44 weekends out of the year. It had arenas, barns, multipurpose buildings, concessions buildings, a 3,000-capacity grandstand, and RV hookups. The county commission established a half-cent recreation district sales tax in 2011 to generate revenue for facility and infrastructure improvements. That tax has produced just a few thousand dollars.