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Public-private partnership urged as means to keep the King County Fair alive

Summary

“Friends of the Fair” would help secure sponsorships to make fair
less dependent on public funding

Story

Creation of a volunteer group to secure business sponsorships and a return to traditional carnival rides are among the preliminary recommendations of a citizen task force looking for ways to keep the 146-year old King County Fair financially viable.

The Metropolitan King County Council’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee was briefed today by members of the King County Fair Task Force in Enumclaw, site of the annual county fair. Task force members recommended that the city of Enumclaw continue to operate the fair as it did this year, when attendance was twice that of 2008.

“Doubling the attendance at the fair in less than a year is a tremendous accomplishment and shows that this model can work,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn, chair of the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee. “The members of the task force and the city of Enumclaw are fully committed to make this fair successful long into the future.”

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:

    o the State of Washington , through its support of county agricultural fairs;
    o King County, consistent with its mission to support agriculture, rural communities and county residents in general; and
    o 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.

The King County Fair is the oldest county fair west of the Mississippi and is a traditional celebration of King County's agricultural heritage. It is a regional draw for organizations such as 4-H, Future Farmers of America and the equestrian community. As a result of declining revenues and attendance over the past decade and the need to close a $93 million shortfall in the 2009 King County budget, the fair’s $318,000 contribution from taxpayers was cut from the 2009 Executive Proposed Budget.

After an outcry from the public, the County Council restored the funding for one year and asked the city of Enumclaw to operate this year’s fair. The Council also created the King County Fair Task Force to analyze current fair operations and explore ways to attract the exhibits, programs and entertainment that would increase attendance and revenue at the fair. The 11 members of the panel included representatives from:

• King County 4-H,
• Washington FFA.
• Washington State University Extension,
• Washington State 4-H, and
• the Washington State Fair Association.

The final report of the task force will be transmitted to the Council by the County Executive.

“At the end of the day this is about more than a fair,” said Dunn “It's about supporting our rural communities who are proud of the legacy they share with all of us in the county.”



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