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Fair recommendations being made

The city of Enumclaw should continue to operate the King County Fair but should receive plenty of help from a volunteer organization charged with lining up financial support.

Those two recommendations headed the list of ideas made public Aug. 18 when the King County Council’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee ventured to Enumclaw.

County Councilmen Reagan Dunn, Pete von Reichbauer and Larry Gossett arrived at the Enumclaw Public Library to hear details of the 2009 fair and be briefed on preliminary recommendations for future fairs.

The need for fresh ideas is clear, as the dismal, recent history of the fair has been well documented.

Pushed to the brink of extinction by King County, the fair was rescued a year ago by a majority of the county council, who included funding for the 2009 edition of the 146-year-old attraction. In a break with tradition, this year’s fair was operated by the city of Enumclaw; the move proved beneficial, as attendance doubled from 2008 levels and the event garnered largely positive reviews.

Since early in the year, a task force has been meeting to chart a future model for the fair, one that makes the annual attraction financially viable.

Enumclaw Mayor John Wise briefed the county councilmen on some of the task force findings. A full report, he said, is due soon.

Among the recommendations are:

• the fair should continue to be staged at its traditional venue, the Enumclaw Expo Center, and that it continue to operate as a county fair, rather than a community fair or some type of agricultural fair.

• it should continue to be operated by the city of Enumclaw, under a long-term contract with the county that includes financial assistance.

• a “Friends of the Fair” organization be formed, given the task of securing sponsorships and financial participation from area businesses. The goal is to make the fair less dependent upon public financing.

Shaping those recommendations as part of the 11-member task force were representatives from King County 4-H and area FFA, Washington State University Extension, the Washington State Fair Association and the Enumclaw community.

Wise said Enumclaw was happy to put on this year’s fair, noting that sunny skies helped the city operate the three-day event at a slight profit.

“It was a great event for the city to put on,” Wise said. “We certainly hope that council members will fund the fair” again in 2010, he added.

Dunn, who chairs the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, made his opinion clear.

“King County pretty effectively ran the fair into the ground,” he said, detailing how former County Executive Ron Sims went so far as to pull fair funding from his proposed 2009 budget. A public outcry helped convince council members to restore funding at 2008 levels, or $318,000. That money was passed along to the city and accounted for the bulk of the fair’s $424,000 budget.

Dunn praised the city’s efforts in producing a 2009 fair in relatively short time.

“There was an energy level that didn’t exist” under county leadership, he said.

Both von Reichbauer and Gossett jumped on board as fair boosters.

“This fair is part of the county as a whole,” von Reichbauer said. “It’s an opportunity to show young people what rural life is like. It’s really a learning place.”

Gossett, who represents an urban part of the county, echoed those sentiments. In particular, Gossett offered his opinion that the fair might take place in Enumclaw, but should be viewed as a countywide asset.

As it now stands, nothing can move forward until the full Metropolitan King County Council takes action. As was the case this year, there will be no fair without some financial commitment from the cash-strapped county.

Dunn pointed out, however, that $318,000 isn’t significant when considering the county’s $5 billion overall operating budget. Dunn also noted that he looks forward to taking his newborn son to future fairs.

“Doubling the attendance at the fair in less than a year is a tremendous accomplishment and shows that this model can work,” Dunn said, praising the city’s effort. “The members of the task force and the city of Enumclaw are fully committed to make this fair successful long into the future.”

To comment on this story view it online at www.courierherald.com. Reach Kevin Hanson at khanson@courierherald.com or 360-802-8205.

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