We were lucky.
Had not been for the tragedy at the Indiana State Fair, Delaware County may not be having this discussion. The grandstands are reported to be at least 60 years old…did anyone think it may be high time for replacement? At the very least, regular inspections of an aging structure should have been considered.
In October 2011, the grandstands WERE inspected. Major structural support problems were reported. Some of the wooden seating had deteriorated and the announcer’s booth was not attached to the metal structure. Instead was supported by wood planks.
December 1, 2011, the Muncie Star newspaper reported the grandstands had serious defects. Jim Mansfield, Fair Board president, estimated the cost of replacement to be $900,000.00. Apparently the decades old grandstand can’t be repaired.
How to fund it with a county that is cash-strapped? This is where it gets interesting.
Jane Lasater, Fair Board vice president, in a private meeting with Commissioner Todd Donati and others, brought up increasing the food and beverage tax. With a sunset clause, of course. At first, it was reported as Donati who suggested the tax increase. He quickly denied it and pointed to Lasater as the brainchild of the increase. Lasater cited Donati’s proposal for a combined animal shelter and a $3 million dollar bond for Muncie to reduce the Tuhey Pool debt.
If your head isn’t spinning yet, it should be. A quick note. Why would Donati even suggest a bond for Tuhey? The bond can be paid down or greatly reduced with the money the city has left in her budget. Shouldn’t President Donati be focusing on his responsibilities? One of which is the Delaware County Fair. It appears he has been a little lax in this area.
December 13th, 2011 County Council meeting saw some discussion on the funding of the grandstands.
Although no council member was able to confirm it, the food and beverage tax increase would need to go through the legislators and none were sure the increase would be acceptable. Jane said she spoke with two representatives while in Washington, D.C. Neither were willing to commit. Senator Lugar’s office wasn’t that accommodating and Brad Bookout said the county would be hard pressed to get a grant.
Ron Quakenbush said quite a bit of money was appropriated a few years ago and only repair was new seats. Lasater countered, Michael Denton had inspected the grandstands and the repairs were done based on his recommendations. This was about six years ago.
Lasater said there are only 21 volunteers on the Delaware County Fair Board and none have the time or the experience to fund raise. Therein lies one problem. A couple of simple requests for Band Day denied; a fee for the antique tractors; an increase in parking and you have a recipe for a decrease in attendance and far less revenue.
Not that doubling the parking cost was a poor idea, you do need some attractions that would offset the increase, though.
It’s no longer uncommon to take a tax guzzling entity and turn it into self-sustaining one . Case in point, Prairie Creek Reservoir. You just need the right people in place, someone who can think outside of “taxes” for creative ideas and sources.
Ron was looking like a cat that just ate the bird, when he made the comment…”The fair board is political.” Jane said it wasn’t. Quakenbush stated all the members were appointed by the commissioners. He went on to say when the commissioners took over from the Lion’s Club he predicted the fair would become political. I smiled just a little during the exchange, as Mr. Quakenbush was right on the money.
The County Commissioner’s took over the Delaware County Fair in 2001.
2002 was the year a last-minute switch for fire protection saw Center Township out and Muncie City in. It was also the first time Mayor Dan Canan donated to the fair. $10,000 of EDIT funds. Center Township Trustee, Dick Shirey was in the second year of fire protection after Muncie City handed him a bill for fire service. Nah, no politics there.
After Center Township made arrangements to staff and located extra equipment, Center Township’s Lt. Hackett spoke with fair board member Todd Donati and was told their services were not needed. In the past, the fair had been protected by volunteer fire departments. Center Township was free of charge.
‘We were disappointed,’ Hackett said. ‘I think it politicizes the fair.’
But, all that aside, I think the county is missing the point. Planning and preparing has not been one of their greatest strengths. The grandstands are the best argument to “be prepared”. The stands didn’t deteriorate overnight and no money was ever set aside for needful repairs, let alone any improvements.
Now, we are in crisis mode, yet again. We don’t have any money and a fair board lacking in time and experience to raise money.
Time is running out and from the county council meeting, an increase in Food and Beverage tax is highly unlikely to succeed. Maybe it’s time to tap into the rainy day funds. Or a bond? Perhaps Mayor Elect Dennis Tyler will share the EDIT funds. How about closing the Delaware County Building on Thursdays, too. Just some ideas to consider. (Tongue in cheek!)
Regardless, this isn’t the first crisis and it won’t be the last.