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Never say never

The Jackson County Fair Board is back, hat in hand. This time, the board wants the county commissioners to forgive its accumulated debt of $314,305. The commissioners should do it without an ultimatum, and stop pretending The Expo can become completely self-sufficient forever.

The Fair Board and the county have been at odds for several years, with the commissioners insisting The Expo should not require annual infusions of county cash to stay afloat. The Expo has made progress toward that goal, as Fair Board Chairman Chris Smith details in a letter to the county.

In 2010, the annual Jackson County Fair lost money. The fair has been in the black every year since. The fall Harvest Fair and the Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo also made money every year, except for 2011, when the Harvest Fair broke even. The three events also show a trend of increasing profits.

Expo managers cut employee hours in slow months of the year and privatized concert promotion for events at the Lithia Motors Amphitheater to save money.

Smith's letter promises the Expo will "never rely upon general fund dollars again" if the commissioners agree to waive the loan balance.

If that can be accomplished, it would be a remarkable achievement. But it simply may not be possible every year, and it would be a mistake for the commissioners to approve this latest request on that condition.

We've said before that the fair and the other events held at The Expo contribute to the county's economy by bringing in visitors, exhibitors and competitors who stay in local motels and eat in local restaurants. The Expo also benefits county residents, especially young people who participate in 4-H, FFA, equestrian events and other activities.

That economic boost may not show up on the county's books, but it benefits the community. The county also has invested considerable money in developing the buildings and other facilities at The Expo — a resource that is worth maintaining. The county has an obligation to continue to protect that investment.

Expo events should rely as little as possible on the county's general fund, and the Fair Board has been successful in reducing costs. The Fair Board has solicited private money for Expo operations, but Smith told the commissioners potential sponsors are reluctant to invest out of concern the money would go to pay off debt.

If granting the Fair Board's request will generate nearly $250,000 in private sponsorships, it's worth doing. But the commissioners should not rule out any and all help in the future. County fairs and similar events carry some risk, vulnerable as they are to weather and the general state of the economy.

A small contribution from the general fund should not be out of the question for a county operation that returns as much value to the community as The Expo.