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Maintaining a major community asset

The Jackson County Expo and Fairgrounds has had its share of financial trouble in the past, repeatedly turning to the county commissioners for loans to stay afloat. So it's welcome news that the Fair Board expects to be in the black by the end of this fiscal year. But even if the board and the interim fair director come up short, the Expo is worth preserving as a major community asset.

Successive boards of county commissioners have hounded successive Fair Boards and managers, demanding that the facility become self-sufficient. Despite progress in that direction, the Expo has never reached that goal. As we've said before, perhaps close is as good as it gets, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The Expo has struggled with some long-standing practices that hurt the bottom line. Changes now in the works include limiting the number of free fair passes handed out to community organizations and substituting written contracts with vendors for the handshake agreements common in the past. The county finance department is now handling the books for the fair, saving a substantial amount of money.

Fair Board Chairman Chris Smith acknowledges the county is still providing $185,000 a year for maintenance of Expo buildings, a cost he hopes the fairgrounds can assume at some point. If that can happen, great. But if it can't, maintaining buildings that are county property is not the worst thing the county could be doing.

The Expo is more than just the location of the annual five-day fair. It is a major community asset that brings dollars into the county all year long. Livestock shows, rodeos and commercial events bring exhibitors who stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants and contribute directly to the local economy.

County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal was on the right track when he called the fair "the heart of the community." The commissioners should not lose sight of that reality, and commit themselves to preserving the Expo, even if that means some continuing financial support.