Updated Wednesday 2:15pm
Lincoln County Commissioners Wednesday expressed visible consternation over the Oregon Fairs Commission (OFC) denying Lincoln County its annual “seed money” from the state toward next summer’s Lincoln County Fair based in Newport.
Lincoln County received a letter from the OFC stating that their inspectors, that toured last summer’s Lincoln County Fair had issues with reported attendance figures and exhibitor information that were part of the county’s official report to the OFC as it relates to next summer’s fair funding from the state. Contract fair producer Debra Jones said the inspectors showed up for only a very short time and then left. She and Lincoln County Counsel Wayne Belmont contend it’s hard to get a feel for fair attendance with such a cursory walk-through. The OFC report also complained of a lack of adequate promotion and advertising but Jones pointed out that they took out many ads in the local newspapers, on the radio and in other publications. Jones said one OFC inspector suggested putting banners across Highways 101 and 20 but she said, “that’s ODOT’s call and they don’t allow highway banners crossing over state highways.”
Belmont said Lincoln County’s performance report to the Oregon Fairs Commission was complete, in sufficient detail, in full compliance with OFC requirements and state statutes and was filed on time. Belmont said the OFC’s funding denial was a complete surprise to him. Belmont said the denial of funds appears to him to be arbitrary. He received direction from the Lincoln County Commission Wednesday to file an appeal of the Oregon Fairs Commission’s ruling. He predicted it will be filed by the end of the week, “and I expect we will prevail,” Belmont said. The amount of the OFC grant was around $40,000.
This afternoon News Lincoln County was told by Oregon Fairs Commission chief John McCulley that the denial of funds stemmed from several deficiencies in the county’s report to the OFC. McCulley said there was no clear description or tracking of how state fair funds were specifically used in the running of the Lincoln County Fair. He added that the the county’s report did not accurately outline the number of observed exhibits, exhibitors or estimates of attendance by state fair staffers who toured the fair. McCulley also reported his staffers determined that participation by local residents as fair exhibitors was unacceptably low. County Counsel Wayne Belmont responded to McCulley’s assertions by repeating that the county’s report was properly prepared with valid information. But Belmont said that “references to whether there were enough local residents participating as exhibitors or whether state staffers could count attendees better than our own is totally outside the evaluation criteria specified in guidelines as to how reports are to be prepared. We stand behind our counts.”
McCulley did acknowledge that the Lincoln County Fair had been on a downhill slide for a number of years and that there were continuous disagreements among fair organizers that many claimed contributed to that decline. The old fair board was eventually disbanded, a blue ribbon committee was formed, and from that a new fair board was appointed by the county commission. But after all that was done, it was April, long past the point that plans for the 2010 Lincoln County Fair should have been in place, exhibitors booked, entertainment locked in and a carnival under contract. At the time, fair organizer Debra Jones said creating a county fair from the ground up was going to take a huge amount of work in a very short amount of time. But she promised that she and her Town and Country Fair and Rodeo Association, in partnership with Oregon State University Extension Office and 4-H, would do the best they could.
In the meantime, Jones tells News Lincoln County that she’s deep into preparing for next summer’s fair at the LC Fairgrounds in Newport. She says she has already booked a carnival as part of the list of attractions. Many fair-goers last summer expressed disappointment that there was no carnival. Jones said the decision to even have a fair came in early spring, so all carnival vendors were already booked for the season. But this year, she said, “Newport’s on the list, and we’ll have one!”
Jones said they have already booked another Bull-O-Rama event, motor sports competition and adds that the county’s 4-H Horse Fair will partially coincide with this summer’s fair. She says there are other entertainment events she’s working on along with recruiting many vendors and exhibitors.
But while Jones and her team continues to create the 2011 Lincoln County Fair, County Counsel Wayne Belmont is concerned about the $40,000 that the state is withholding. He told News Lincoln County that the money is vital to the success of the fair and that not having it could have a major impact on the future of any Lincoln County Fair program. He said again he expects to prevail on the county’s appeal. He said the appeal is first to the Director of the Department of Agriculture. From there it could go to court. But all that takes time. And time is precious when having to plan nearly a year ahead for an event like a county fair.