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Thursday October 18, 2018

fair restructuring examined

Friday, October 13, 2017 14:40 PM
Written by Stan Maddux
Category: Local News

The oldest fair in the state is hurting financially but plans to keep it going long term under a restructuring is meeting a great deal of resistance.

A new not-for-profit corporation would be formed and a full time manager hired to maintain the fairgrounds and book more revenue producing events on the property.

The primary objective is to generate enough money to make the fairgrounds self-sufficient especially with major infrastructure upgrades needed on the property.

People currently involved with the fair want to keep the current operating structure and county government to provide financial help.

Those viewpoints were expressed during a Thursday night meeting of a Blue Ribbon committee appointed recently to find answers to the fair's struggling balance sheets.

More than 100 people were in attendance.

The plan calls for an 11 member not-for-profit corporation made up of elected officials along with current and former members of the fair board to oversee the fairgrounds.

Under its umbrella would be a full-time manager booking year-round events and overseeing maintenance of the grounds.

The existing fair board would remain and have exclusive rights to the county-owned property during the month of the fair established in 1845.

Current fair board members and other volunteers fear their use of the facilities and influence on decision making will be interfered with despite assurances of having top priority especially in the weeks before and after the fair.

Rich Mrozinski, president of the LaPorte County Commissioners and fair board member, cautioned if toes are stepped on volunteers who make putting on the fair possible could walk away.

''You will screw up the fair something fierce and you can't do that,'' Mrozinski said.

Mrozinski also said it seems like a political takeover of the fair is at work considering four of the 11 seats on the not-for-profit corporation are members of the LaPorte County Council.

He favors keeping the current management structure in place and county government paying for certain expenses like building maintenance and insurance now picked up by the fair board.

''That will help with the bottom line a lot,'' said Mrozinski.

Ron Shafer, another member of the fair board and chairman of Pioneer Land, said the county should contribute $500,000 a year.

If that were done, Shafer said it would take only a few years to do all of the necessary facility maintenance.

LaPorte County Council attorney Shaw Friedman said a not-for-profit corporation would be in a much better position to obtain grants and other financial assistance to pay for costly upgrades desperately needed to the electrical system, some of aging buildings and other infrastructure without asking taxpayers to help foot the bill.

He also said the restructuring plan was part a recent deal to forgive a $250,000 loan issued by county government to the fair board in 2011 to extend sewer lines to the property and provides revenue sharing with county government in years when the fair makes a profit.

''Why shouldn't the taxpayers benefit,'' Friedman said.

Other concerns included 4-H having access to buildings under a restructuring considering 4-H has activities for its youth members year round at the fairgrounds

''Typically, throughout the whole year, almost every night there's something going on,'' said Jeremy Smith, an adult 4-H volunteer from Mill Creek.
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