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Fair meeting: Volunteers needed more than cash

The Ag Society emphasized the need for more volunteers and communication to a large crowd who gathered to discuss the fair's future last Wednesday in the 4-H building at the Wadena County Fairgrounds.

Deteriorating fairground buildings, financial shortfalls and declining attendance have brought the fair's future into question.

Tim Nolte, Ag Society vice president, introduced the meeting as an opportunity to address three topics related to keeping the fair: Is there enough interest? Are there enough exhibitors? Are there enough people willing to volunteer?

"We need all three of these to keep going," said Fran Kueker, Ag Society president.

The public meeting was informational and not intended to create any final decisions. The society invited the county commissioners to attend, but did not allow audience questions to be directed to them. Requesting more money from the county board was not on the agenda.

"Our problem is about more than money," Kueker said. "It's the volunteers [we need]. They can throw all the money in the world at us and it's not going to help."

An audience member asked how many people it takes to run the fair during fair time.

"As many as we can get," said Mary Malone, Ag Society treasurer. "The more we have, the better the fair is."

An oft-repeated question to the society was why there are so few volunteers.

"It's a lack of communication," said Kueker. "And that's why we called this meeting."

Kueker's comment was a sentiment that was echoed by other board members throughout the evening.

Some suggested the Ag Society should encourage more community involvement from boy scouts, girl scouts, churches and businesses.

"We're pretty swamped with what we're doing now," Nolte said about why the boy scouts and girls scouts have not typically participated in the fair.

Kueker said that the girl scouts were involved at this year's fair.

The recent success of the Soil and Water Wildlife and Conservation Expo also popped into the discussion. Some suggested combining the event with the fair and others suggested the fair incorporate some of the Expo's most popular events such as clay pigeon shooting.

"Soil and Water filled the fairgrounds," Kueker said in response. "Where do you put the fair?"

Kueker also pointed out that the Expo leased the fairgrounds. Combining it with the fair would mean a loss of revenue.

The carnival on the midway sparked some strong statements from the public and the Ag Society. Several audience members questioned the safety of the rides and the expense of hiring a carnival.

Kueker said the board has been considering whether the carnival is important to the fair. In an interview she commented that, from the discussion at the meeting, it did not appear that the carnival's presence is going to make or break the fair. The Ag Society still has to fulfill one more year of a five-year contract with the carnival company.

Mike Burcham, grounds coordinator, said he would like to see the carnival replaced with five to 10 rides for younger kids and more parking for fairgoers.

In addition to answering questions from the public, the Ag Society also placed an ice cream pail at the front of the room for people to leave questions and suggestions. The comments will be printed up and reviewed at the Ag Society's annual meeting October. After all audience input was looked at, Kueker said there were no suggestions to discontinue the fair.

Commissioner Mary Harrison urged the public to call the county board members directly with their questions and concerns.

Commissioner Bill Stearns gave an overview of the money the county has allocated for fair-related purposes.

The county has set a preliminary 2007 budget of $15,250 for the Ag Society, $92,000 for extension and has added an extra $20,000 for a new roof on one of the buildings in the fairgrounds, he said. Cuts can be made before the final budget is authorized.

"It's a small county and there's not a lot of money," he explained.

In addition to county funding, sources of funding for the Ag Sociey include $1,663.97 from the state, $1,750 from the Wadena Posse to rent grounds and $7,500 from Wadena-Deer Creek schools for a bus lease in 2005.

The Ag Society distributed a list of some of the income and expenses it has throughout the year. The income for the 2006 county fair totaled $14,243.98 and expenses were $24,481.40. Sources of income for this year's fair included $3,025 for booth rent, $6,680 for grandstand event gate fee and pit fee and $2,642 in donations.

The Ag Society members admitted they had made mistakes in running the fair, but Kueker also pointed out their success. The current fair board started its first fair two years ago $7,500 in the hole, she said. This year, they have $1,200 left over.

"We've come a long way in two years," she said.