Fairgrounds board requests funding to stay afloat

By DeeAnna Haney | Feb 22, 2013

The Haywood County Fairgrounds is home to several events throughout the year, including popular horse shows, tractor pulls, agriculture auctions, and of course the county fair. But as the nonprofit's money dwindles, it will need help from the county in order to stay open longterm.

County Commissioner and member of the fairgrounds board, Kevin Ensley, brought up the need for funding from the county in order to keep the fairgrounds open at the annual retreat Tuesday.

In the past, the county appropriated $150,000 to the fairgrounds, which used about $100,000 for infrastructure, such as paying off the new arena. The other $50,000 was used to bolster operating expenses.

But in 2009 the commissioners drastically cut the budget, leaving out nonprofits completely, and that included the fairgrounds.

“For the fairgrounds, it was all their budget. We basically cut their knees out from under them,” Ensley said.

Commissioners restructured the fairgrounds board to a group of seven members  who hired a director of the facility in early 2011 as they began focusing on marketing the fairgrounds in an effort to become self-sustaining.

That position was cut to part-time in mid-2012 as a cost-saving measure and the director resigned shortly thereafter.

Now, a part-time employee, who is paid $600 monthly, manages rentals for the facility, but no one is currently handling marketing the fairgrounds.

Fairgrounds Chairwoman Mary Ann Enloe believes that a person dedicated to that job, however, is crucial to the fairgrounds’ survival.

“We’ve got to have somebody whose job it is to sell this venue,” she said.

The rest of the work on the grounds is maintained by a large group of faithful volunteers.

The budget for the fairgrounds is funded by money made from rentals of the facility, money brought in by the flea market (about $12,000 yearly) and sponsorships for events such as the annual county fair.

The Haywood County Farm Bureau sponsored last year's fair for $32,500 and some money is brought in from the fair, but funds have begun to dwindle.

“We can’t continue the way we’re going without some type of funding from the county because, had the Haywood County Farm Bureau not sponsored the fair last year, we would basically be at zero,” Ensley said.

Several thousand dollars have gone toward unexpected maintenance to the facility, Ensley added, which has made a significant impact on the budget. The sprinkler system, which must operate in order to use the arena, has broken twice, resulting in nearly $10,000 in repair costs.

Fairgrounds Board Treasurer Nancy Davis said more maintenance is needed on leaks in one building, a new coating on the roof of the livestock yard, which is estimated to cost $2,500, and a new sign that was recently vandalized could cost more than $3,000.

The board decided to raise the rental rate by 15 percent this year, but continuing events that are already locked in for this year will be paying the old rate, Ensley said.

There are plenty of events held on the property each year and there is room for more, which could eventually make the nonprofit self sustaining.

"The fair is just one week of the year. It’s so much more than the fair," Enloe said.

She pointed to dog and horse shows, tractor and truck pulls, the gun show, wedding receptions and so many more events that take place on the grounds.

"It lends itself so well to so many things and that arena is wonderful now that we have all the upgrades. That place can take off and go, I'm convinced of it. I was convinced of it from day one...I think it’s a county facility and as a former commissioner who was very careful with how money was spent, I think that is certainly a viable reason to help keep that open," Enloe said.

But currently, Ensley expects the board can run the fairgrounds independently for one more year. Then, he said he fears he will be coming to commissioners to say it's time to close the facility.

The commissioners discussed several different ways the county could help the fairgrounds, one of which would be to dedicate a current county employee to directing the facility and handling marketing.

They also considered taking over the insurance costs on the buildings, which costs about $1,200 each month and/or handling maintenance costs.

“I’d like the commissioners to meet with the fairgrounds board to go over exactly what our expenses are and what we’d like to see from the board (of commissioners),” Ensley said.

Enloe said any help the commissioners can offer will make a difference.

"With the commissioners' help, we can certainly keep those fairgrounds open. It's extremely important, not only to the agricultural community, but it’s a wonderful venue. We’re getting more and more people interested in it, and we won't go down without a fight," Enloe said.

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