County fair likely to go on say organizersWashington County Fair organizers say they are hopeful they will find a way to hold the county fair this summer.
By: Hank Long, Woodbury Bulletin
Washington County Fair organizers say they are hopeful they will find a way to hold the county fair this summer.
But they aren’t so sure about the fair’s viability in future years should the county choose to not continue to fund two 4-H coordinators positions that amount to a total of $131,000 in spending in the county’s annual budget. The contract for funding those positions expires July 1.
County commissioners are expected to officially discuss the recommended cuts to the 4-H coordinator positions at their March 24 meeting.
Earlier last week, rumors were swirling among 4-H and county fair circles that the Washington County Fair’s board of directors had authorized organization president Dan Dolan to cancel the fair if Washington County commissioners vote later this month to eliminate funding for the 4-H coordinator positions. Two are assigned to the county by the University of Minnesota Extension Service.
Dolan wouldn’t confirm those rumors, but said he believes county commissioners will find a way to fund the 4-H coordinator positions through the summer, which are necessary to make the county fair a viable attraction.
Dolan said county fair board members have discussed whether the county fair could continue in 2010 if the local 4-H were to lose county funding for the official coordinator positions, which he said are necessary for there to be continued interest for 4-H youth to stay involved with the county fair.
Dolan said that the U of M Extension Service has a policy that states the county must fund at least 75-percent of the 4-H coordinator positions, otherwise 4-H clubs in the county cannot participate at the state fair level.
If local 4-Hers could not enter their projects at the state fair, that would deter them from participating at the county fair, Dolan said.
“If you don’t have 4-H exhibits at the county fair you don’t get vendors,” Dolan said. “If you don’t get vendors you don’t get carnival attractions, you don’t get people to come to the fair.”
“We’ve really never been worried about it before, because we’ve never gotten to this point,” said Dolan, who has been the Washington County Fair board president for the last three years.
The Washington County Fair is a private organization not affiliated with county government. Its fair grounds, located in Baytown Township, are technically private as well, Dolan said.
Earlier this year the county announced it would make more than $3 million in cuts to its 2009 budget because of a loss in state aid and projected revenue shortfalls.
Among those staff recommended cuts is elimination of the county’s contract with U of M Extension Service to fund the 4-H coordinator positions. The extension service manages the 4-H county-funded coordinator positions.
County commissioners unofficially approved the cuts in a February workshop, but since then, commissioners have been in discussions with fair organizers and members of 4-H to try to find a way to help the fair continue at least through this summer.
The Washington County Fair is scheduled from July 29-Aug. 2.
At a March 10 county board meeting commissioner Gary Kriesel said the short-term solution to help 4-H through the county fair may lie in gaining financial support from communities in the county.
The cities of Scandia, Hugo and Forest Lake are in the process of drafting resolutions publicly asking the county to continue to fund the 4-H coordinator positions.
Kriesel said he plans to speak with leaders in those communities to see if they would be willing to pledge financial support that would help fund the 4-H positions through the fair event.
“I’m glad to hear that our communities in the county are supporting 4-H,” Kriesel said, “We have to figure out a way to get (4-H in Washington County) sustainable into the future.”
Commissioner Lisa Weik said she believes the county board may be willing to partially fund the 4-H positions through this summer, which should keep local 4-H activities, as organized by the Extension Service, afloat through the county state fairs.
“I know some of their leadership is asking for ways for the county to extend its funding, at least through the fair,” Weik said. “I think that’s great they’re willing to negotiate and that they understand we are making hard decisions.