Herald JournalWinsted-Lester Prairie Journal, June 10, 2002

Ownership of McLeod fairgrounds being transferred to county

By Gail Lipe

It appears that the McLeod County Fairgrounds will become the property of McLeod County by Sept. 1. The McLeod County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution from the McLeod County Agricultural Association transferring ownership to the county at its meeting on Tuesday.

But all the details still need to be worked out.

The resolution was first passed by the McLeod County Agricultural Association on April 15, with approximately 75 percent of the board voting in favor of transferring the ownership, said Tim Ulrich, president of the agricultural association.

Ulrich said the goal of the agricultural association when it built the current fairgrounds was for it to be a positive influence on the economics of the region, which he said has been accomplished very well.

He said the agricultural association did not make long range plans on how to deal with that, which has become a problem.

The agricultural association is made up of 83 members, with 66 of those being active members. It is run by a nine-member volunteer board.

Ulrich said all of the board members have other full-time jobs. The agricultural association does not have the time or the ability to run the fairgrounds on a 12-month basis, he said.

He said all the members are part of the organization because they have an interest in the county fair, not in property management.

The county fair uses the facility for approximately three weeks out of the year, but Ulrich said the facility is used approximately 45 weekends of each year.

McLeod County Commissioner Mel Dose said he heard a radio announcement about the polka festival that is being held at the fairgrounds next weekend that stated all the hotels in Hutchinson are already booked. "It must boost the economy for Hutchinson," he said.

The county and the city of Hutchinson have been looking at the possibility of the county owning the property and the city managing it, except during the county fair. A subcommittee was formed to look at the revenues and expenses over the last three years. It determined that the expenses will run approximately $100,000 more than revenues for the next three years.

Ulrich said he felt that assessment is a worst-case scenario. He said the deficit will probably not be that extensive.

When the projected budget was formed, the expenses increased because of staffing and other expenses that currently are not there, but the revenues remained the same, Ulrich said.

The agricultural association has been running with a $30,000 to $40,000 deficit per year, and has been able to use volunteer labor for maintenance, he said.

"I think the revenue side will go up," he said. Part of turning the property over to the county is the ability to staff the property, which in turn will increase property management, which will increase revenues, he said.

Some of the other issues discussed included the outstanding assessments and the contract with McLeod Coop Power for the surcharge the agricultural association is paying.

Ulrich said the agricultural association has been paying $1,300 per year to McLeod Coop Power to make up for the lost revenue when the property went to the city. The contract runs until 2003.

He said there are issues with the Century 7 Theater because it is not paying the surcharge on the property it is on. The amount is not a large sum of money, but it is the principle, he said.

The resolution also transfers the assessments of over $89,000 to the county. Ulrich said those are on Century Avenue from the west edge of the shelter to the west edge of the fair property and the road behind Wal-Mart. He said the agricultural association is involved in the assessments on that road because of a ditch that was removed on the fair property.

McLeod County Commissioner Grant Knutson said the finance sub-committee that was appointed at the last workshop will meet on Wednesday (today) to work on the financial picture and agreements.

Ulrich said the intent is that all non-fair revenue will be going to the county beginning from the date of the transfer of the property. He said the money that is currently in the agricultural association checking account will stay with the agricultural association to run the fair.

He also said there is realistically $.5 million to $1 million of real estate on the edges of the fair property that could be sold without affecting the fair.

The resolution states that no property can be sold without approval of the agricultural association, and that the revenues will be split 80 percent to the county and 20 percent to the agricultural association.

It also states that the 80 percent the county receives could only be used for maintenance of and upgrading of the fair property. Knutson said he would like to see all of the revenue placed into a dedicated fund for maintenance.

Ulrich said he felt the biggest concern for the agricultural association is that money is available for the ongoing maintenance of the fairgrounds.

The board of commissioners adopted the resolution adding that all the revenue from sales be put in a maintenance fund.

The details of who will be managing what, and who pays for what will be worked out later. The agreement between Hutchinson and the county for managing the facility is far from being finalized.

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