Wadena County Commissioners questioned past and present expenses and the future of the fairgrounds at a recent commission meeting.

Answering the questions of the board was Kylene Lehmann, who had just been elected as secretary and treasurer of the Ag Society the night before. In her dual role, the Ag Society board also voted to gather quotes for professional services for accounting services so she would strictly handle the reporting duties of the positions.

"It really is a larger job than what a volunteer should be expected to do," Lehmann said.

Her gaining the dual position came after an annual meeting where several board members resigned, while others were elected and later resigned. Also elected in the most recent meeting was Darin Lehmann, Kylene's husband. He's the new chairman of the Ag Society. Also on the board are Betty white, Corey Cameron and Ted Mindermann. That's five out of the possible 11 member board.

Lehmann previously served as a volunteer and secretary for the Ag Society and said she remains involved in the fair because she loves and cares about the future of the fair.

Lehmann asked the board to approve payment of maintenance expenses, which included a bill from former Ag Society president Bryan Wegscheid, of Bryan Wegscheid Plumbing and Heating, who had been maintaining the water at the fairgrounds, making necessary hookups in the spring and blowing out the system each fall. The question came about why the bill included the last three years of work.

"I've never seen a bill like this, it's a little troublesome," commissioner Bill Stearns said.

Lehmann said Wegscheid was doing the fair a favor by holding off on billing to allow them to cover other expenses. She also said Wegscheid donated countless hours of work to the fair. This bill showed work that was measurable, Lehmann said. Commissioner Sheldon Monson interjected that the Ag Society had funds to pay for the bill. Hofer agreed saying there has been rollover.

The county board eventually approved payment of the bills and included language that bills should be paid within the current year. Wegscheid's bill written in October 2019 totaled $4,154 for the work from 2017-2019. Another invoice from Daily Electric totaled $5,753.24 for his electrical work completed in August at the horse arena and race track. When asked, County Auditor Heather Olson said there was no issue with paying a bill from past years.

Other concerns aired

Commissioners brought up further concerns of tax liabilities by the Ag Society, when Wadena County Attorney Kyra Ladd questioned whether the county board should be making disbursements to an entity that is not in compliance. She mentioned a situation from a few years ago.

"It required you guys to look at the appropriateness of giving a tenant to your land money to do improvements to your land without having some kind of documentation for that," Ladd said. She also brought up a more recent outstanding tax liability, which Lehmann said was no longer an issue.

"There is no longer an outstanding tax liability," Lehmann said.

Commissioners discussed the funding that the Ag Society receives and how to best divide it. Commission chair Bill Stearns said the Ag Society gets $28,000 annually. In recent years that's been divided into two funds; $15,000 for operational costs and $13,000 for maintenance costs. Stearns said that the operational costs can be spent on the fair however the board saw fit. Commissioner Hofer said it was his feeling that opening and closing waterlines each year should be an operational cost, not maintenance.

Lehmann said that in previous years the fair volunteers have brought bills to the county office to be paid. However, this year, they were told to pay the bills up front and then seek reimbursement. Several board members suggested that the group should bring forth a budget each year and share their long-term planning goals. It was mentioned that the fair lease agreement needed updating. Olson said that other groups the county funds provide a budget, but the Ag Society has not done so in several years. Monson then brought up that a new tax law for 2019 could effect the fair in that a portion of the sales tax savings must be transferred and used by the owner on buildings on the fairgrounds. Kangas said that he had concerns about the Ag Society paying a board member without any indication that the work went out for bids.

"It just looks like there is a conflict," Kangas said.

It was clear that there were many unknowns about what really was expected, made even more true by the fact that much of the fair board has been altered in the last month. At one point it was recommended county board members form a committee to discuss expectations and open lines of communication. Hofer and Kangas were recommended for the committee along with County Attorney Kyra Ladd.

Lehmann said that the Ag Society does have a maintenance list listing projects by priority. She said she was not well aware of the process of how the commissioners need that information.

"We need to know what is expected of us," Lehmann said.

Horsager asked how the group should move forward without treating the Ag Society different from other entities the county funds. Ladd said the fair is different because it is operating on county-owned land.

"It's not the same ... because this is our land that they are using and they are doing things to it that you have to oversee," Ladd said.

The Ag Society had an interesting year with the prospect of selling the fairgrounds last spring when Tri-County Health Care was looking for a property for a new hospital. The board held off on any major maintenance projects during that time as it was not clear what might happen to the property. Some work that was completed included lighting at the track and horse arena. The Ag Society ended up putting together a master plan of what it would take to move and rebuild the fair, which came to a cost of about $13.1 million.