Two months into the Fair Board’s endeavors to create a special district, CEO Randy Hatfield went before the Crescent City Council last week to bring its members up to date and ask for their support.
The Del Norte County Fair Board, part of the 41st District Agriculture Association, is working with the Local Agency Formation Commission to create a special district with directors elected by the public in November 2014. The Board also hopes to put a seven-year, 0.25 percent sales tax measure on the 2014 ballot, which if passed would fund the new district.
The tax measure would help the fairgrounds stay afloat beyond November 2016, which Hatfield said is the point where the Fair Board expects to be out of money.
Since the state stopped funding fairgrounds in 2011, the Del Norte County Fair has lost about $200,000 in operating funds, roughly a third of its operating budget, Hatfield told the Council. To help make ends meet and keep the grounds open, the Fair Board cut its budget and its staff. It also created a reserve fund with about $500,000 in it, he said.
“They explained to us that they really enjoy the fairs and supported the fairs. They said they have no money to help the fairs, but they did have money to help close the fairs,” Hatfield said, referring to a 2012 meeting between the Fair Board and a representative of the state secretary of agriculture. “We really knew at that point that we were in trouble. It was left up to the individual communities and counties to handle their own problems. We weren’t going to get any help from the state and we weren’t going to get any help from our association.”
To determine if the community would be open to a sales tax increase, the Fair Board hired Oakland-based EMC Research to conduct a survey. Researchers interviewed 300 Del Norters and asked for their opinions on the fair in general and the proposed tax measure. The survey was completed and presented to the Board in April.
According to Hatfield, 88 percent of those surveyed had something good to say about the fair. Fifty-eight percent supported the sales tax increase, he said. If a tax measure does make it to the ballot, it would require a two-thirds majority vote to pass.
The Fair Board is still at the beginning of the LAFCO process, Hatfield said. It has gone through the application process and paid its fee for becoming a special district and is working with staff to provide information on facility improvements, utility lines and plans for the future.
Hatfield said that includes talking to LAFCO about the types of events that are held at the fairgrounds.
“We’ve never gone through this before and we’re kind of at the will of the LAFCO organization,” he said. “We’re hoping to have this all buttoned up by June or July. We have to know, No. 1, that they’re going to approve the special district, and No. 2, that it’s going to get done in time for any election that may occur in November of 2014.”
The Board’s legal counsel is also working on the logistics of getting a tax measure on the 2014 ballot, Hatfield said.
When Hatfield finished his presentation, Councilwoman Kelly Schellong said she sympathizes with the Fair Board, and she commended it for taking action early.
“This was the same thing we went through with our Redevelopment Agency,” she said. “(The state) shut it down and took our money. And the plan they put in place was completely a mess.”
Mayor Rick Holley noted the city’s goal of reducing blight and said if it closes, the fairgrounds would be “the largest blight issue ever seen by the Crescent City area.” But he wondered how a tax increase would affect sales in the county.
“I wonder what the threshold is where people get in their car and go to Oregon,” Holley said. “How might that impact the city?”
In response, Hatfield talked about the fair’s impact to local businesses and the economy in general. Denny’s restaurant sometimes gets slammed with diners when a particular event is happening at the fairgrounds, he said. And a recent gathering of Jehovah’s Witnesses brought 700 people to Crescent City from out of town, Hatfield said.
“Where are they going to stay? Hotels, etcetera. Where are they eating? They’re eating in town,” he said. “What’s worse? A permanent shutdown where you have no facility, no income, no jobs, no nothing, versus a seven-year revenue coming in?”
Hatfield and Fair Board Director Kevin Hartwick went before the Board of Supervisors in August to ask for its support for the tax measure and in creating a special district.
The Fair Board will meet at 6 p.m. this evening inside the board room at the fairgrounds.