No fair in 2010 unless county finds the money

There’s widespread agreement that the 2009 edition of the King County Fair was a rousing success, but that’s no guarantee the 147-year-old attraction will live to see another day.

King County Executive Kurt Triplett has allocated no money for the fair in his 2010 budget proposal, following the lead of his predecessor, Ron Sims, who axed fair funding from his 2009 spending plan. Public pressure and a majority vote by members of the County Council restored funding and the city of Enumclaw agreed to put on the fair in ‘09.

That exact scenario is playing out again.

Just because there’s no money included in Triplett’s budget, that doesn’t mean some heavy lobbying isn’t going on.

Members of the Enumclaw City Council passed a resolution during their Oct. 12 meeting, urging that King County not pull the plug on the oldest county fair west of the Mississippi. King County Councilman Reagan Dunn is pushing the issue in Seattle, urging his fellow council members to include at least $318,000 in the 2010 budget to make the fair a reality. And a petition started by Enumclaw Mayor John Wise is making the rounds.

Caught in the middle are Fair Manager Joan Lewis and her boss, Enumclaw Parks and Recreation Director Larry Fetter. If the fair receives funding, it won’t officially come until very late in the year and, once again, Lewis will be forced to jump into the fair game when others are well into the planning stages.

“We are on hold,” Lewis said. “Until both councils approve their budgets, we can’t do any planning.”

Dunn said he’s working on the rest of the county council, calling in favors when necessary.

“This is budget politics at its best,” he said, referring to the give-and-take that occurs when nine elected officials must come together to pass a working budget.

When it comes to money, Dunn is convinced $300,000 can be found in a spending plan that has $621 million in its general fund and totals $4.8 billion.

Dunn is familiar with the fair operation, having worked on a task force that has drafted a series of recommendations, all aimed at making the fair a self-sustaining effort.

“The success of the 2009 fair shows that this model works and the task force has worked hard to find lasting solutions to rebuild the fair,” Dunn said. “Refusing to fund the fair this year would undercut the work of the task force and all of the progress made this year.”

The resolution passed unanimously last week reads much like the document adopted a year ago. It notes that the fair provides an economic benefit to both the city and county and exposes to public to a rural lifestyle. Losing the fair would “eliminate a major historical and heritage component” associated with both the city and county, the resolution adds.

Among the recommendations of the task force:

• Continuation of the fair at the Enumclaw Expo Center as a county fair, rather than a community fair or other type of agricultural fair authorized under state law.

• Operation of the fair by the city of Enumclaw under a long-term contract with King County that comes with ongoing financial support from the County for fair operations.

• Pursuit of significant and stable funding from the state of Washington, through its support of county agricultural fairs; King County, consistent with its mission to support agriculture, rural communities and county residents in general; and the city of Enumclaw, as the primary beneficiary of the local and regional economic development that will come from large scale fair attendance.

• Formation of an active “Friends of the Fair” volunteer group to help secure sponsorships and financial participation, particularly from area businesses, to make the fair less dependent on public funding; to focus efforts in marketing and advertising; and to potentially manage and operate the fair.

• Improvement of fair attractions and attendance through traditional carnival rides, the traditional Critter Crowning competition, local food vendors, a farmer’s market, more aggressive advertising of open class competitions, and encouragement of all cities in King County to participate in some way.

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