The Hill County Fair Board picked a carnival for the next Great Northern Fair Thursday night during a special meeting requested by the fairgrounds manager for that specific purpose.
At its regular meeting Jan. 15, the board authorized manager Tim Solomon to negotiate a deal and make an offer to one of the carnivals interested in coming to the fair in Hill County, but Solomon said Thursday he was not comfortable making an offer without discussing some of the issues with the board. He did, he added, think a decision needed to be made this week.
"I'm worried about (if we) keep coming back, " he said, adding, "I think we're late enough. "
Solomon said it is late in the season for carnivals, which tend to buy their equipment in February and need to make sure all of their stops are planned.
The decision is likely to provide a carnival for other communities, as well. Solomon said the fairs in Shelby, Lewistown and Wolf Point are waiting to see the decision of the Hill County board, as those communities can't really draw carnivals on their own.
The board has been seeking a replacement for Royal West Amusements for several months now, after that carnival — about which Solomon and members of the fair board have said at several meetings that they heard complaints — lost its helping carnival, Inland Empire, and could no longer guarantee the minimum 17 rides the companies must provide at the Havre fair.
Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl wrote an opinion last fall that the board could cancel its remaining two years of contract with Royal West because the carnival could not guarantee enough rides.
The board — which barely made quorum Thursday due to other commitments preventing three members from attending the special meeting — voted 3-0 to offer a three-year contract to Brown's Amusement.
Solomon, who said after the meeting that 2013 would be the first time Brown's has come to this area, said it was the only company that offered a complete contract and had met all of the requirements of the Great Northern Fair in its offer.
The company provided a list of rides it would offer at the carnival, including some long-standing favorites such as the Zipper, Super Sizzler, Octopus, bumper cars and rides tailored for smaller children such as the apple ride and baby swings.
Solomon said the rule of thumb is for carnivals to offer at least one game or concession for each ride brought to the midway.
Board member Missy Boucher asked if there was time to try to negotiate a two-year contract.
The board members in previous meetings have said they would like to have a one- or possibly two-year contract, to check the quality of the carnival before committing to a longer contract and to also open the possibility of prospecting Thomas Amusement, which has two years remaining with its contract with the state fair in Great Falls.
Solomon said Brown's is firm on requiring a three-year contract, which, he added, he can understand. The carnivals need to have several years planned out in order to plan their finances and routes, he said.
He said that does not put the board out much — if the Hill County Fair Board is happy with Brown's, it can stay with that company, and, if not, it can start looking again.
That could involve negotiating with Thomas to see if it could add Hill County to its route, he said.
The decision, if Browns' signs the contract, likely will provide a carnival to Lewistown and Wolf Point as well, though Shelby might miss out.
Solomon said Browns' has expressed interest in taking the carnival to Lewistown and Wolf Point, but that it is unlikely to be able to cover the Shelby fair.