Members of the Oregon County Fair board persuaded lawmakers not to cut $1 million in funding in hearings before both the Joint Ways and Means Committee and the General Government subcommittee.
County fairs across the state will not see the 50% cut in state funding they were expecting.
Bart Noll, chairman of the Oregon Fairs Association, said about eight to 10 people from across the state, including county commissioner, fair managers and county fair board members testified before both the committee and subcommittee.
“We had an excellent response, excellent attendance and an exceptional testimony at that subcommittee hearing,” Noll said.
That, he said, played a significant role in securing the funding.
Noll said OFA made the case that fairs bring a return on the state’s $1 million in lottery funding. He said each county fair receives $25,000 and leverages the money to generate various income streams and provide a benefit to the residents of their respective communities.
“We don’t just take the $25,000 that each fair gets and spend it,” he said. “Fairs generate further business activity with that money, from the events they put on to the fairgrounds’ rentals.”
With the number of fairs forced to shut down this year due to COVID-19, he said he would have been questioning whether some fairs would have been able to open back up again in 2021.
State Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, said he and several other lawmakers worked hard to maintain the funding.
“They are an extremely critical resource for all of Oregon,” Findley said of county fairs. “There’s a lot of good rural legislators, and it was pretty widespread that they do play a major role in communities.”
Noll said the testimony during the special session reflected how essential fairs are to Oregon.
“So many people thought that it was important that they took time out of their day to get signed up to testify,” Noll said. “They got online during the meeting. They prepared their testimony and delivered it to the subcommittee. It is a substantial investment in time and energy to do the testimony, and there were a lot of us there so it was very encouraging.”
The Legislature, after months of work, balanced the budget in a one-day special session and shored up a $1 billion budget shortfall that erupted as result from the COVID-19 global pandemic.
On July 16 the Joint Ways and Means Committee released their budget re-balance plan, which included, among other things, the $1 million cut in lottery revenue to the county fair’s account.
Noll said the announcement took him by surprise because the OFA had been assured the funding would be in the budget proposal. Noll said each county fair receives a “modest amount.”
Grant County Fairgrounds Manager Mindy Winegar said the potential cut would have been “pretty devastating” for the county.
Winegar said she knew of three Grant County residents who wrote their elected representatives, including Donna Palmer, Mary Ellen Brooks and Courtney Montague.
“I’m from Grant County, total population of about 7,000 people, and the county fair is the one thing that brings us all together once a year,” Palmer wrote. “Although we get support from the few businesses in our county, there is just not enough resources to make up the gap that would be left if you were to cut the current dollars we receive. Please help us continue to bring our county citizens together for our Grant County Fair.”