Wallowa County Fairgrounds need stable funding base

By Observer editorial December 09, 2010 02:20 pm
Wallowa County Fairgrounds proponents are right in deciding to forge ahead and try to keep the fairgrounds operating despite funding uncertainties. Wallowa County needs its fairgrounds.
Residents have rallied around the fairgrounds since a proposed tax district was defeated by 260 votes in the Nov. 2 election. The tax district levy, at 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, would have raised about $100,000 a year — enough to operate the grounds without state support.

The fair board put the measure on the ballot because it sensed that  state support might go away. Considering the state’s revenue predicament, the fair board is probably right.

The county is expecting $36,000 from the state in January as this year’s state allotment. Another  $20,000 in private donations has been raised since the tax levy went down.

At a meeting last week Wallowa County rancher Stephen Wolf suggested recruiting 1,000 citizens to pledge $30, or $5 a month for six months, to raise the needed operating money. Other ideas generated at the meeting ranged from eliminating the full-time fairgrounds manager position to adding a marketing coordinator and building an RV park. A lot of ideas were brought forward at the meeting, which drew about 100 people.

The fairgrounds is an activity hub for Wallowa County. From rodeos and 4-H and FFA activities to Hells Canyon Mule Days, the fairgrounds provide an event center for Wallowa County. Cloverleaf Hall, which is part of the fairgrounds, may be the busiest meeting center in all of Northeast Oregon. Wallowa County would be selling itself short if it were to let the fairgrounds close.

No one can be quite sure what voters were saying Nov. 2 when they rejected the tax levy. Voters all over the country were in a “no’’ mood, so the defeat wasn’t completely surprising. But knowing how vital the fairgrounds are to Wallowa County, it just didn’t seem possible that for $28.50 a year for a $150,000 home, voters would turn down the measure. Perhaps they simply didn’t believe that the fairgrounds’ future might be in jeopardy.

Wallowa County residents surely will rally around the grounds and come up with enough funding to keep them open through this next season. But not having a stable funding base could prove daunting after that.

Among the ideas the fair board, fairgrounds users and the county commission might want to consider is whether they think the cause is important enough to go back before voters again, either next year or in 2012. The fairgrounds are that important to Wallowa County, and they are worthy of a full-fledged campaign to win approval of the kind of stable funding base that an event center needs.