Members of the Wallowa County Fair Board, accompanied by fairground manager Randy Garnett, approached the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners Monday morning to request that the fair board become the manager of the Wallowa County Community Service complex of buildings constructed on fairground property in 1995.

"If we are not in charge, we need to have our relationship with (the complex) board and board of commissioners decided," said board member Linda Childers at the end of a lengthy discussion about the matter.

The board of commissioners agreed that management issues needed to be resolved, but felt the tenants of the complex also needed a chance to voice their opinion. The commissioners asked the fair board to submit their proposal in writing for consideration at the Dec. 15 meeting.

The building complex just north of Cloverleaf Hall is occupied by the Wallowa County Extension Office, Head Start, Community Connection center and offices, Wallowa County Health Department and Safe Harbors. There is a community complex committee/board made up of tenants of the building that apparently meets only once a year, with management services provided by Safe Harbors in lieu of monetary contributions.

According to Garnett, the fair board is "legally supposed to be managing the property" under state statute, since the buildings are located on fairground property.

As a point to begin discussion, commission chair Mike Hayward said that history shows that the fair board was adamently opposed to siting the building complex on the fairground site, "but that is water under the bridge" since the buildings are already there. He noted that part of the problem may be that there was no money available to compensate the fair board, since the property was the county's part of the match for grant funds that made the project possible.

While Hayward said the county could decide if the fair board should manage the complex, he felt the statute didn't apply in this case because that part of the fairgrounds is "not devoted to the county fair."

Fair board member Greg Johnson said that the board's understanding in the beginning was that the complex would house "groups we supported," but then it was taken "out of our hands." He added that it was the board's understanding that after a period of time, it would eventually be managed by the board.

Garnett noted that in the latest agreement between Wallowa County and the Community Services tenants in 1999, it states that the service providers would pay 40 cents per square foot per month to the county for a sinking fund and maintenance. It was noted the 40 cents amount is actually paid per year.

County accountant Gail Tally, who pays the bills for the complex , noted that money does go into a sinking fund that pays for such expenses as replacement of a defective water line to the complex this summer. She said the fund has been adequate so far, but pointed out the buildings are starting to age and would probably need more maintenance in the future.

"There has been very little accountability with what has happened or not happened from the get go. ... It has been a cat and dog fight for seven years," said Garnett, without specifying the exact disagreements.

Commissioner Ben Boswell agreed that a comprehensive agreement is needed involving the relationship of the fair board, the tenants and the county.

He also referred to the complicated funding package that had been put together to build the Commuity Service complex, which included some organizations that qualified for grant funding and others that didn't, and involved some tenants putting in more construction money than others. He said that In the end only $486,000 out of the total $762,000 cost of the complex was paid for by the original grant.

There was some discussion about whether or not an original objective of the complex was to generate some income to help the county fair, and it was noted that perhaps not all parties were told the same thing at the time.

The fair board members stated it was difficult to get their concerns addressed under the present management system. "We feel like we're spinning our wheels," said Saralyn Johnson.

The fairboard representatives agreed to present their concerns and proposal to take over management of the county Community Services complex in writing.

"Having opened the dialogue, we should continue it ... and get this resolved ASAP," said Boswell.

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