Fair board seeks ways to avoid financial pitfalls

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer December 11, 2012 09:26 pm

Josephine County’s fair is $200,000 in the hole -— and Curry County Fair Board members don’t want to follow in its path, fair board manager Ron Crook said recently.

Lost revenue is affecting other areas also hard hit by the faltering economy; in California, 18 counties are cancelling their annual fairs due to lack of money, Crook said.

Josephine County eliminated its horse racing last summer, citing a $50,000 loss in racing revenue during its nine-day stretch in 2011 and another loss of $22,000 this summer. Insurance alone can run up to $20,000 a year.

This summer, Curry County Fair made money – and many kudos are due to Curry Fair Friends, the catering group that provides money to the grounds, Crook said.

As an aside, Crook noted the event in Josephine County took a hit in beer sales this summer, having only sold a third what it usually does – a loss of almost $60,000. 

In Curry County, the fair reported having a record beer sales last summer.

The issue was addressed Dec. 6 because the Gold Beach-based fair is in the midst of prioritizing infrastructure repair and reconstruction projects as part of a master plan update. The last one was done in 1996.

Some fixes are as simple as replacing screens torn off windows in the last storm; others are as expensive as paving the livestock barn floor and addressing problems in the arena, built in the 1970s.

“It never met specs,” Crook said, “and it was condemned for years.”

The board agreed it needs to prioritize its projects and then determine if specialists such as architects and engineers are required before work can begin.

“It’s a complicated pie, and there are a lot of pieces to that pie,” Crook said. “But we’ve got to get moving. We’ve got to get off the fence, and we can’t jump off the fence until we have all the information.”

The board might also pursue outside funding, notably from the Ford Family Foundation. Crook said that foundation usually contributes 35 percent toward the cost of a project, and was considering helping the local fair to the tune of 45 percent.

Currently, the arena needs a new roof and has problems with drainage and doors. The floor in the livestock pavillion should be paved, and doors, gutters and drains throughout the grounds need to be replaced. The 4-H group would like to build dormitories and update its kitchen, bathroom and meeting rooms. And the fairgrounds needs a storage shed and shop, for everything from tractors to tables.

Fair Board member Lucie La Bonté suggested prioritizing the projects based on the economic benefits each brings in to fair coffers.

“We have to keep the fairgrounds open; that is our mission,” she said. “Any grant (institution) will like that. They don’t like to throw money around.”

The county loaned the fair $50,000, but has agreed to forgive that loan if the money is spent on fairground repair, maintenance or capital improvement projects.

“All the work we do, the due diligence we do, and the manager who tracks those things really makes a difference,” La Bonté said. “I really believe that.”