A transfer of $136,000 has been approved by the Board of Lewis County Commissioners to balance the budget of the fairgrounds this year after the revenues and expenditures for the Southwest Washington Fair and interim events have been tallied.
“This is not a year that’s unlike any other year,” Steve Walton, director of the central services department, which oversees the fair, said at a meeting on Tuesday. “It’s become standard procedure.”
This year, the Southwest Washington Fair saw an increase in revenue from 2016, but the cost to produce the events and to maintain the fairgrounds exceeded what was in the budget, Fair Manager Tamara Hayes said.
Each year, the commissioners approve a transfer from the general fund toward the beginning of the year, and later approve additional money to balance the budget.
For the 2017 budget, $150,000 was originally approved, but more is needed to bridge the shortfall, which led to the additional transfer.
Next year, those costs will be front-loaded after commissioners approved $225,000 for the 2018 budget, in hopes that the money will save the extra step once the year-round event and facility rentals are complete.
The total amount the county will pay for the fairgrounds in 2018 as of now is $329,000, Becky Butler, budget analyst for the county, said. In addition to the amount commissioners approved to pay up front, there is $50,000 already in the budget, as well as another $54,000 to move Discover Lewis County under the umbrella of the fairgrounds.
Earlier this year, commissioners decided to reduce one full-time equivalent position in the county’s information technology services department, which currently oversees the county’s online tourism platform, and essentially transfer it over to the fairgrounds.
Hayes said she plans to find ways to make the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds self-sustaining in years to come with a more aggressive approach to bring in more revenue.
This year’s six-day fair saw an attendance of over 63,000 people, 1,045 exhibitors, 8,667 fair entries, 100 superintendents, 3,000 volunteers and 180 vendors. Gate receipts were up by six percent, while carnival sales were up by 20 percent. Commercial and food vendor payments to the fair, as well as fair revenue, were up by 10 and 5 percent, respectively.
A 2004 study shows the Southwest Washington Fair alone is credited with an indirect and induced economic impact of $14 million to the surrounding communities, Hayes said.
“If you remove the estimated transfer of funds — $285,615.00 — to the fairgrounds in 2017 and the cost of facility maintenance — $282,790 — the fairgrounds activities is just about breaking even,” information provided by Hayes stated.
Fair revenue this year was $643,188, while expenses were $660,455. Revenue from interim events was $277,154, while expenses totaled $259,314.
Several options to avoid future fund transfers were presented. Those include an increase to ticket prices, rentals and various fees. The option to charge for services such as bedding and water used for animals at the fair, a reduction to the budget for entertainment, or staff reductions could also take place.
Hayes also said the fairgrounds could be annexed into the city of Centralia, which would result in a 15 percent cost reduction in utility fees, because prices are higher in the urban growth area where the fair currently resides.
Lewis County is the only county in the state of Washington that is mandated to have an agricultural fair under the Revised Code of Washington.