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Board members consider shutting down fairgrounds


February 21, 2018

The finance committee arm of the Great Northern Fair Board will hold a special meeting soon to discuss ways to keep open or shut down the Great Northern Fairgrounds.

A time and place for the special meeting had not been set at the end of discussing the future of the fair during the fair board’s monthly meeting Tuesday in the Hill County Courthouse.

During the meeting, board members frustratedly talked about the financial state of the fairgrounds and as it relates to the annual fair.

“We’re in an emergency condition,” board member Scott Doney said. “We’re being asked to run a business that’s a sinking ship. … In the next couple of months, we have some serious decisions to make.”

The discussion, which dominated the meeting, started after Finance Committee Chair Ray Kallenberger went over the budget.

“Right now, I don’t know how we’re going to put on a fair, probably,” Kallenberger said.

The board is legally required to have a certain amount in cash reserves, depending on the budget, board Chair Paul McCann said. The required amount is not there.

The fairgrounds makes money from the fair — carnival proceeds and money from civic groups and concessions and exhibitors — facility rentals, camper storage, house rental, and from schools who use the grounds to train for rodeos. A small portion, about $5,000, comes from county tax cofers.

For half a year, McCann said, the fairgrounds’ cash reserves budget has been in the red. The expenses have exceeded income. The costliest of the expenses are wages and utilities. The January budget chart shows that $1,113 was allocated on wages and $2,060 on utilities. January’s income was $2,687 and expenses came to $4,444. Repairs, Doney said, are another major drain on the fairgrounds, as they amount to more than the yearly revenue.

The hope, McCann said, was that at some point the fairgrounds would bring in more revenue and crawl back in the black. That aspiration was buried under this winter’s record snowfall. Board members cited examples such as canceled rodeo events or people paying to ride horses on the grounds as ways the winter dampened revenue.

“People don’t want to pay for ridership because they can’t ride,” Doney said.

Board members discussed  ideas like shutting down and winterizing the fairgrounds, which would save money on utilities and wages in low usage months.

Time has been another issue. As  volunteer members, it had always been a challenge to commit, Doney said. The lack of a fairgrounds manager didn’t help either, as money was lost when there was no one for people who wanted to use the grounds to talk to, he said.

When asked what his ideas were, Hill County Commission Chair Mark Peterson echoed Doney and the rest of the board. There simply isn’t any money to make it work, he said. He was asked by new member Ron Konesky if there is a way to move some money around.

“The budget is expended,” Peterson said. “You can’t move around something you don’t have.”

As for the summer fair, Peterson said future fairs might have to be put on by volunteers.

“The only way it’s going to be put on is if people are willing to give,” Peterson said. “There’s people outside of the board that are going to have to step up.”

The culture has changed and fairs just aren’t what they used to be, McCann said.

“Maybe it’s something the public doesn’t even want,” he added.

A public outreach was another idea tossed about during the meeting.

“Maybe we can do a public outreach and ask for $40,000 in levies,” Doney said.

A strategic planning committee — chaired by McCann — whose purpose will be to help the public understand what the board feels the future can hold, “good and bad,” was formed.

Peterson said contracts for this year’s fair have to be honored, leaving less wiggle room for moving money around or cutting certain services or expenses.

“You can’t just lock up right now,” McCann added. “There’s contracts and people who say, ‘Just a second, you got my money.’”

The future of the fairgrounds hangs in the balance. No decisions have been made.

“We haven’t canceled the fair,” McCann said.

Tuesday’s meeting adjourned late, before everything on the agenda was discussed.


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