Future of fair: Wyo State Fair discusses funding during community meeting
Douglas – On May 25, the Converse County Tourism and Visitor Center hosted a meeting at the Douglas Public Library with the goal of discussing how to work together to show community support for the Wyoming State Fair (WSF).
With a variety of attendees, State Fair Advisory Board Member Joe Rankin and WSF Director James Goodrich looked at the importance of the fair and emphasized a focus on the future.
“Tight budget times give us a chance to look to the future,” Rankin said. “It’s a positive look toward the past, too.”
Rankin noted WSF is a tradition for many families around Wyoming and serves as a gathering place for the agriculture community.
“My family has been involved with WSF before I was born, and I’ve attended every year since I was born – as a family member, parent, commercial vendor, Fair Posse member and now as a member of the Advisory Board,” he said. “WSF is a tradition and a passion, not just for my family and me but for many people around the state.”
In addition, Rankin noted visitors to the fair from around the country have indicated that it is a “comfortable and homey state fair without the commercial production of larger fairs.”
The positive reviews provide more reason for the fair to continue as an agriculture-based event, and he looks forward to improving the event.
“I’m sure Wyoming will bounce back from our economic situation, but until then, we’ll do all we can to keep WSF great,” Rankin said.
To fund the activities on the grounds, Goodrich noted WSF receives an annual appropriation in the biennial budget that amounts to approximately $3 million – a sum which was reduced dramatically in the 2017 session of the Wyoming Legislature.
WSF also receives some funding from Converse County, and they receive a portion of Converse County’s lodging taxes.
“That $3 million is augmented by what we call enterprise funds,” he continued. “It is mandated that we use those enterprise funds to supplement our budget.”
Two enterprise funds exist – a fair time enterprise fund and a fund for non-fair activities.
The fair time fund includes revenue from fees, admissions, etc. during the event.
“That money is deposited in the fair time fund and held there,” Goodrich said.
Fees collected from activities held on the fairgrounds the rest of the year are deposited into the non-fair fund, which is used to pay for utilities, maintenance and contract services to keep the grounds operational year-round.
“The fair time enterprise funds are used to supplement our General Fund budget,” he continued. “The enterprise funds remain in an account, and we have to ask for permission to use those funds. We go to the budget office, the Governor’s office and, ultimately, the Appropriations Committee of the Legislature to utilize those funds.”
With budget reductions this year, Goodrich noted that WSF also received spending authority to utilize their enterprise fund, but he also cautioned that the strategy is not sustainable.
“This spending authority gets us through the 2017 State Fair and this biennium,” he said. “However, as we deplete those enterprise funds, we aren’t in a position to generate enough right now to continually offset a reduction in General Fund money.”
At the same time, during strong budget times, Goodrich noted WSF was cautioned against maintaining balances that were too large in their enterprise funds.
“We were cautioned about having too large of balances in the enterprise funds because we would risk losing General Fund money,” he said. “We were asked to spend those balances down.”
WSF did spend from the enterprise accounts, but Goodrich said, “We still lost General Funding, and we don’t have those balances to rely on. It’s put us in a position going forward where funding is going to become very critical.”
“It’s expensive to maintain the fair and the grounds,” Goodrich continued.
Throughout the year, WSF requires an average of $25,000 per month to cover utilities costs.
The 118-acre fairgrounds contain 62 structures, which cover a little over 500,000 square feet of space. Four employees conduct maintenance across the grounds.
“When we compare that to other facilities, we have about one employee for every five that others have,” Goodrich explained. “We try to maximize and optimize our resources.”
Goodrich commented that they have also worked to maintain older equipment, rather than buying new equipment.
“We’ve also been very fortunate to get a lot of major maintenance money,” he said, noting that the fairgrounds have received just over $4 million since 2007 for major renovations, including structural, painting and drainage improvements.
The Wyoming State Fairgrounds has also seen over $15 million in capital construction, namely in the Stallion Show Center and Pepsi Equine Center, in the past 10 years.
“We’ve been very fortunate to see that money, but it has also increased our load for maintenance and operations,” Goodrich said. “Those buildings don’t take care of themselves.”
With its large size and minimal staff, WSF is also challenged by the small size of Douglas and Converse County.
Many other fairgrounds around the nation are centered in larger cities, like Boise, Idaho and Billings, Mont.
“They are in larger population areas and are supported by a larger population base,” Goodrich said. “We’re not in that position.”
Others are managed by private entities that are aggressive in their marketing areas.
“As part of a state agency, we have other challenges,” Goodrich said. “There are procedures, checks and balances. It’s frustrating and slows down everything, but it is an important part of having public funding.”
“Can there be changes to our fair? You bet. We all have ideas and suggestions, and we’re going to do what we have to do,” Goodrich commented.
To gather input from around the state on the best direction for the future of WSF, Goodrich, the Wyoming Board of Agriculture and Wyoming State Fair Advisory Board will conduct meetings.
“We’re taking on the aggressive and daunting task of having meetings of the districts of the Board of Agriculture,” Goodrich said. “We’ll likely have two to three meetings in every district.”
The meetings will be publicized as they are scheduled.
“We have a lot of ground to cover, a lot to take on and a lot of challenges ahead,” Goodrich said, “but we’re trying to tackle it.”
Members of the Wyoming Legislature also addressed the meeting. Look for more from this meeting in an upcoming edition of the Roundup.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.