BY LINDA SUTTER
At the November 10th Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Randy Hatfield, the governor-appointed Fairgrounds Manager, informed the Board of Supervisors that the state-owned fairground facility would no longer be receiving funding from the state. In the next election, the voters of Del Norte County will examine the pros and cons of whether to increase sales tax one quarter of a cent for the next seven years to maintain and have a fairground facility as well as a fair.
The history of the fairground began in 1892 where the 41st Agricultural Association was formed and the fair was held in Smith River. In 1920 the fair moved to its present location. In 1930 the fair began to receive horse racing revenue and by 1990 California’s fair fund grew to over $100 million. By 2009 horse racing revenue seriously declined and the State shifted fair funding to the General Fund (discretionary use money). By 2010 California’s fair fund was fully depleted due to the decline in horse racing whereupon only $20 million was in the general fund opposed to the prior $100 million. In 2011 all state funding is eliminated and the state sets funds aside to help close all fairs.
According to a research and planning document by Tamera Leighton, the 2011/2012 Expenditure Plan states that the 41st District Agricultural Association will suddenly become responsible for fully self-funding unemployment claims, vehicle insurance, Department of Justice fees, property insurance, annual audits and construction management and inspection fees. Previously, Del Norte County received $180,000 annually to cover the cost of these fees, however, that is no longer the case, making Del Norte County Fair at risk for closure. The Del Norte County Fair has managed to reserve some funds that will last approximately 2 years unless other revenue can be generated.
The ugly truth about the matter is this, according to Randy Hatfield: our fairground has never been funded enough to keep the maintenance of our facility intact as well as updated. It would take $20 million to update the fairground facility to a competitive functioning facility. $20 million! Even if the voters of Del Norte County were to vote for a quarter-cent sales tax increase for 7 years, the approximate amount of money generated would only be $532,000 a year. Seven years of a quarter-cent sales tax increase is quite frankly not enough.
This past year, fair week’s cost was approximately $438,000.00 and the fair didn’t take in enough to cover that cost. They were in the hole $123,000 when it was all said in done, which had to be covered by their reserve funds.
We are all in a “damned if we do damned if we don’t” situation. The Del Norte County Fairground provides events year around where they host a rodeo, the farmer’s market, and events for children and families. These events generate thousands of dollars in economic activity and tourism dollars for the local community. Losing our fairground is a serious matter. It would no longer host the farmer’s market or other important community events. The property would no longer be maintained creating blight in the center of our city.
Here is another ugly truth: there need to be serious updates to the facility. We all well know we are far enough away from the politicians we can make and break rules. Maybe if we, as a community, come together strongly, we could do the work that needs to be done through volunteering. I am sure Home Depot and other companies here would donate to make our fairground a suitable as well as viable functioning facility to be proud of. Maybe what needs to be done is to adhere to the Habitat for Humanity’s theory, and in order to do that EVERYONE has to be on the same page. I worked one week for the Extreme Make-Over show, and through that experience I learned: Who constructed the buildings and everything that needed to be done? The community did, by getting back to the basics where everyone works together, kind of like the Kid’s Town project.
One thing I don’t understand in regard to all this madness is that the State wants to appoint its own Fair Board members. They don’t want to contribute to the upkeep of their own facility, thereby making it a liability to the State. However, now that the grounds are substandard, the State wants to push responsibility off onto the county. Doesn’t the State have a duty of care and if they breach that duty are they not liable for the loss of revenue to our county? And can the County use eminent domain to confiscate this property through willful abandonment?
What our current Fair Board leader is doing is developing a referendum to possibly make the fairgrounds a “special district” with the hope of generating enough funding to keep our fairground open and functioning. It would also take away the State’s ability to appoint and we the voters would be given a chance to decide who we wanted to manage the special district.
I gave Mr. Hatfield ideas for promoting events, but, it was explained to me, promoting events cost too much money and first year events rarely make money. Still, if someone like KID ROCK came to do a benefit concert at $40/seat, don’t you think we would make money?