Making The Expo self-sustaining is a worthwhile goal, and if a threat from the Jackson County Budget Committee accomplishes that, great. But county officials should think twice before pulling the plug on the Jackson County Fair.
The fair's financial woes are familiar by now. The six-day event is The Expo's most lucrative all year. It consistently turns a profit, but that profit declined along with the economic downturn, as people tightened their belts and cut back on discretionary entertainment expenses.
The fair is also at the mercy of the weather. Mid-July in the Rogue Valley can mean searing temperatures or thunderstorms or — likely as not — both. Heat and rain can keep attendance down, which cuts into all-important gate receipts.
July also comes at the beginning of the fiscal year, which adds yet another problem.
The Expo has striven mightily to stand on its own feet by trimming costs, which means employing fewer people year-round. To gear up for the fair, The Expo must hire temporary staff to prepare for the annual event, and that hiring happens at the tail-end of the fiscal year when revenues are lowest.
If the previous summer's fair didn't earn a large enough profit, The Expo has to ask the county for a loan until the new fair's receipts come in.
County officials are tired of this cycle, and want to avoid loaning money against uncertain fair profits. The Budget Committee has recommended a three-month budget of about $750,000 for The Expo, but promises no loans to cover shortfalls.
The Expo still owes about $200,000 from those loans over the past several years.
To put that in perspective, that's roughly two full-time, professional county employees, including benefits. Not exactly a huge amount.
We understand that the county is pinching pennies everywhere it can as its reserve funds dwindle. But shutting down the fair would almost certainly lead to closing The Expo, too — a consequence the county should avoid.
The fair once covered about half The Expo's expenses, which made possible the many smaller events held there during the year. Those events — concerts, rodeos, trade fairs — pump money into the county's economy when exhibitors and participants from outside the area stay in local motels and eat in local restaurants.
Those dollars don't show up on The Expo's balance sheet, but they are important. The fair and those commercial events also help make possible youth activities and community events, which don't bring in as much money but are central to the valley's quality of life.
It would be wonderful if every government operation could be self-sufficient. But that's simply not realistic.
The county doesn't pave roads to make a profit. It doesn't expect the Sheriff's Department to write enough traffic tickets to support itself — and we're all grateful for that. It supports those functions to make everyone safer, just as it has supported The Expo for its contributions to the valley's economy and its quality of life.
County officials should ask themselves whether the ideal of a self-supporting Expo is worth losing those contributions.