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Fairgrounds, guests adjusting to higher rates

By Hilary Maynard, The Courier-Herald

Rates were raised at the King County Fairgrounds last year and some vendors are finding it hard to keep up.

The rising costs are a result of budget cuts in King County. David Marks, director of the King County Fairgrounds, said the county does not view the parks as a budget priority.

"The parks are not a mandated program," Marks said. "The budgets were severely slashed."

Marks said many recreational activities fall under park jurisdiction. Swimming pools across King County, for example, have been shut down. The battle to keep the Enumclaw pool open was well documented locally, resulting in the city taking ownership of the facility; local property owners approved a tax hike to make it possible.

"Parks have to come up with additional revenue to keep them from being closed, to keep people from losing their jobs. That includes the fairgrounds," Marks said.

According to Marks, the fairgrounds are part of the King County Department of Parks and Recreation. Rates across the board have increased 25 percent in King County in the last year.

King County Councilman Steve Hammond, who represents District 9, said the county and the fairgrounds are just trying to make the best of a bad budget situation.

"I'm very pleased with the work that David Marks is doing," Hammond said. "I'm impressed with his leadership. As far as I can tell, he is offering as many options as he can to groups who might have trouble with the increase."

Hammond said he acknowledges that a rate increase at the fairgrounds might leave some groups hard pressed to use the facilities.

"Everyone understands you have to cover your costs, but if your product is too expensive, it negatively impacts those able and willing to use your facility," Hammond said.

"It would be a shame to see the non-profits squeezed out," Hammond said. "It would be a shame to lose any community traditions."

Linda Crusen, leader of a local 4-H horse group for 11 years, said she fears the rising rates to occupy the fairgrounds could force the group to find another venue.

Crusen said the rates to hold shows and practices at the fairgrounds have gone up 25 percent this year.

"It could be a problem," she said. "Last year it cost us $250 to rent the arena that we use for the shows. This year it costs $329. We're just a non-profit trying to do good things for kids."

Crusen said in previous years, the club has been able to work $100 off its fee by doing 20 hours of community service around the fairgrounds.

"It would cost us $150, but we were not able to do that this year," Crusen said.

She explained the horse shows act as a way for the horses to get used to the fairgrounds so at fair time they are comfortable in that environment. Constantly changing locations is not really an option.

"The reason we do three shows is we're preparing our kids to show their animals at the fair. The horses need to get used to the area," she said.

Crusen said she has absolutely no animosity towards those employed at the fairgrounds, nor does she blame Marks.

"Everyone at the fairgrounds has bent over backwards for us," Crusen said. "We had a change of management and he came in not knowing the ins and outs."

Marks said fairground rates are not final; the rates are still being developed to make the grounds more accessible to smaller groups.

"We haven't lost any major events," Marks said. "We've lost some smaller events, but revenue is actually up."

Missing from this year's event list was RAMROD, Race Around Mount Rainier in One Day. Redmond Cycling Club president Tom Killion said the event did not change locations due to fairground rental costs, but rather, scheduling conflicts with the Scottish Highland Games.

Sharon McBride Ritelis, president of the Seattle Scottish Highland Games Association, said she wants to stay in Enumclaw next year, but the association just cannot afford to pay a 25 percent increase.

"We're a non-profit, self-supporting, all volunteer organization," Ritelis said. "We don't want to move, but financially it might be necessary. After fierce negotiations, we were able to work out a contract where our rates were only raised 7 to 10 percent. That's one of the reasons we were able to stay this year."

Ritelis said the Seattle Scottish Highland Games found out about the rate increase in February and had not worked out a contract until July, the month of the games. She said the association was forced to talk to several other venues about moving this year's games, including the Seattle Parks Department and private venues.

"Staying in King County would be our best case scenario, but because the fair board doesn't set fees until October, renters won't know until the first part of 2004," Ritelis said.

She said the Seattle Scottish Highland Games Association will have a backup plan in case fairground rates are just too high.

"This organization's been going for 57 years," Ritelis said. "We have to be realistic."

Marks said he is making an effort to work with groups on the cost of renting the fairgrounds.

Crusen said she doesn't understand why they have to rent the fairgrounds at all.

"A lot of counties have open fairgrounds. We can't understand why King County is not more like that."

Although she said she is concerned, she reinforces that she is not upset with fairground personnel.

"It's not the fairgrounds, it's the county," she said. "We have had to raise the rates on our shows, and anytime you raise rates on anything it comes out of someone's pocket."

Hilary Maynard can be reached at 360-825-2555, ext. 227

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