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Fair Board Looks At Funding Options

Annual fair in perpetually precarious state financially

POLK COUNTY -- At the Polk County Fair, sometimes the budget provides as much excitement as the entertainment.

"For the last 17 years, fair funding has been like a roller coaster ride," said board Chair Ray Steele.

The fair board met with Polk County's commissioners June 12 to find a way to straighten the curves and flatten the hills. Two years from now, the county's voters might have the final say.

The fair makes most of its money renting out the county fairgrounds throughout the year. The annual fair itself typically does not make money.

That's not unusual, fairgrounds Manager Tina Andersen said. Counties across Oregon can expect to break even at best and hopefully not come up too short. They hold the fairs as a public service.

The Polk County Fair also gets state and county grants each year. The State gives $41,000.

But commissioners and fair officials alike don't expect that amount to survive a state budget bloodied by cuts. "It's extremely unstable," Andersen said.

"We could lose it in this next special session."

Polk County also has made budget cuts. The fair gets $30,000 from the county.

"If the state does cut their funding, our fair's in real trouble," said Commissioner Mike Propes.

So county commissioners have told the fair board to look for more secure sources. That could mean going to voters with a levy. Or it could mean forming a new taxing district.

Fair board members and commissioners want plenty of time to look into this. Propes discussed forming two committees. One would consider whether to form a fair district.

The other would look at the ongoing needs of the fair and how best to raise money.

A fair funding measure could appear on the November 2004 ballot.

To prosper in the future, the fair needs to take time and explore all its options, Propes said. "If we don't do it right, 10 years from now we're going to be in the same spot."

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