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MailTribune.com
  • Is this the county fair's last ride?

    The Expo must become self-sustaining or tough choices will have to be made
  • This year could be the last for the Jackson County Fair if The Expo fails to become self-sustaining after the first three months of the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to the county's budget document.
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  • This year could be the last for the Jackson County Fair if The Expo fails to become self-sustaining after the first three months of the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to the county's budget document.
    The Jackson County Budget Committee last week recommended a three-month budget of $760,610 for The Expo, but promised no loans to cover any shortfalls as it has in the past. The Expo still owes the county $200,000 in such loans over the past several years.
    "This may be the last year for the County Fair," the budget document reads.
    The committee provided $185,000 to The Expo for maintenance and repairs on county-owned buildings and promised to revisit The Expo's budget after three months. The budget still must be approved by the Jackson County commissioners.
    Expo officials say they are working hard to boost the number and size of its events, outsource concerts to minimize risk and make a harder push on marketing to prevent a shutdown.
    "It's a potential that it could happen, but no one's stated that will happen," County Administrator Danny Jordan said. "Do I think the fair's going to close down? Probably not."
    Expo Director Dave Koellermeier pointed out there are events planned nearly every weekend for the remainder of this fiscal year, including the Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo, one of The Expo's biggest. He said expenses have been reduced and operations streamlined, and officials continue to search for new sources of revenue.
    "I think we've honed this down to where we're going to make this work," he said.
    If receipts from the Jackson County Fair — by far The Expo's biggest event set for July 16-21 this year — prove profitable, the Board of Commissioners could approve a supplemental budget to continue Expo operations for the remaining nine months of the fiscal year. If not, The Expo could either submit an amended budget by cutting more expenses or finding additional revenue streams, or close down operations.
    "The budget committee was pretty adamant about getting that house in order," said Commissioner Chairman Don Skundrick.
    Deputy County Administrator Harvey Bragg said ticket sales from the fair, which typically cover half The Expo's expenses, have fallen short in recent years, requiring a loan from the county to cover operational costs.
    "As they go to the end of the fiscal year, then their funds are depleted, and the general fund has to loan them money," Bragg said. "That hasn't worked."
    Expo officials said they want to start hosting concerts year-round and provide more family entertainment events at the fair by outsourcing to a third-party promoter that would assume the risk if events fail to bring in anticipated revenue. Friends of the Fair Foundation Director Dann Hauser said a third-party promoter's experience and knowledge also would lead to better acts and better booking rates.
    "There are a lot of benefits to doing it with a third party," Hauser said.
    These types of events would be spread between the Compton Arena and the Lithia Motors Amphitheater during the fair. Tickets would be sold at discounted rates, and fair officials promise more acts on the grounds that are free with admission.
    "They're really going to play up the value of the fair this year," Hauser said.
    Fair officials said they also hope to increase their marketing of other Expo events. They may change the Harvest Fair's focus to a microbrew event in the fall, thanks to a 101 percent increase in microbrew sales at last year's Harvest Fair compared to the year before. In addition, Expo officials hope to increase offerings at their rodeo event at the end of May.
    The Expo's financial troubles accelerated about five years ago, when it had seven full-time workers and revenues totaled $2.1 million. It cut back to just three full-time staff members last year as revenues declined. This year, the budget is a little more than $1.7 million.
    "The citizens of the county have an enormous facility here," said Koellermeier, who became director in 2010. "We should be regionally dominant. My confidence on the upside is very good."
    Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.
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