County lays low on fair

The city of Enumclaw appears ready and willing to operate the King County Fair again next year, but no one knows if the county will step to the plate and offer financial support.

The city put together – in rather hasty fashion – Enumclaw’s King County Fair in July, a three-day event that generated positive reviews. And, contrary to a pattern established in recent years by the county, the city operated the fair while showing a slight profit.

But the city’s commitment was for one year only, part of a process that included formation of a Fair Task Force; that hand-picked group, which included experts in the industry, was charged with developing a recipe for long-term success and has been meeting since early in the year.

The task force gathered for the final time Aug. 3 and is slated to offer a report Tuesday morning to the Government Oversite and Accountability Committee, a subcommittee of the Metropolitan King County Council. That group will meet at 10 a.m. in the Enumclaw library.

Enumclaw Mayor John Wise, a key player in keeping the fair alive after King County threatened to pull the plug on the venture a year ago, said a series of recommendations will be forwarded during the Tuesday meeting. Though still unofficial, Wise said it will be suggested that Enumclaw operate the fair for another year but that the event continue to be offered as a “county fair” rather than a community event. It will be suggested that a separate, nonprofit group be formed to operate the fair.

Wise said he has requested that King County provide a long-term financial commitment, because stability is a key issue in providing a successful event.

“Fairs notoriously don’t make money and this one in particular hasn’t made any money in years,” Wise said, noting that the city took all the risk in offering this year’s event. If the weather had turned sour during the fair’s three-day run, Wise noted, the financial picture could have been entirely different.

If the city winds up putting on the 2010 fair, the situation will be similar to this year’s scenario, where Enumclaw had a late start and had to scramble.

Wise said in a perfect world, fair organizers work nearly all year, lining up vendors and securing contracts.

Last year, through efforts by city and county leaders, as well as input from the 4-H and FFA, the county agreed to put $311,000 into its budget for the fair. The money wasn’t official, however, until the first of the year, meaning the city couldn’t start planning until late in the game.

The same thing is happening this time around, Wise said. The city cannot put staff time, energy and money into planning for the 2010 fair, he said, until it’s certain that King County will offer financial support.

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