Fairgrounds levy idea moves forward

<I>File photo</I><BR>Fairgrounds manager Randy Garnett crumbles a handful of rotting wood taken from a brace under the fairgrounds grandstand.

Wallowa County commissioners have appointed Steve Lear of Enterprise and Brinda Stanley of Imnaha to thecounty fair board.

The new members will assist the other five as they prepare to present to county voters a planned specal district to administer the county fairgrounds and ask for a tax levy. The measure is expected to be on the November ballot.

At the same meeting March 8, fairgrounds manager Randy Garnett and county commissioners corrected a previous statement that the Fairgrounds Service District would cost exactly what the expiring solid waste levy had cost - 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

"Somewhere in the number crunching we got our numbers askew," said Garnett.

"What I want the public to know is that it was our intention to bring a plan that didn't add to the community's tax burden."

The amount of the solid waste levy, set to expire this year, is 10 cents per $1,000.

It is the local option weed levy that costs 19 cents per $1,000 and that is not set to expire for nearly five years.

Nevertheless, the fair board is proceeding with the request for 19 cents per $1,000 in property value, Garnett said.

"That amount gives us about $100,000 per year in operating funds and that is the amount we need," he said.

"State funding, currently $35,000 per year, will probably be gone next year. We won't know until February next year if we are getting anything, but we do know that funding is in great danger. It's highly probable that fair funding will be gone in Oregon."

County Commissioner Susan Roberts said that, despite new taxes on business and higher-income residents, the state is still down $2.3 million in the budget and funding for fairs has historically been among the first to be cut to balance the budget. Although legislators from rural districts have repeatedly fought to have that funding restored, many people believe the writing is on the wall for state fair funding.

On the positive side, Roberts and Garnett both reported that comments they have received from the community so far have indicated that residents favor the proposed Fairgrounds Service District even if it does result in their paying another 9 cents per $1,000 in the coming years.

"What I've heard around the county is that people feel it is important to keep the fairgrounds," said Roberts. "They were far more supportive of putting a local tax on than agreeing to anything the state or federal government would do."

Les Carlsen, former Wallowa county commissioner and husband of fair board member Nancy Carlsen, recalled that late Circuit Court Judge R.T. Gooding said that he'd never had a 4-H or FFA member come before him on criminal charges in court.

That statement, Carlsen said, emphasized the value of 4-H and FFA as character-building programs that rural communities recognized as worth supporting.

Garnett said a service district also would give the public much more control over their fairgrounds.

"Residents can actually see what their money is being used for and have control over it," he said.

With a Fairgrounds Service District, Wallowa County residents will elect the board members who determine what happens to their funds. "And if they don't like what the board is doing, they can put people in who will do it differently," Garnett said.

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