County fair works toward self sufficiency
By Lori Adler
A lot of speculation about the future of the Oneida County Fair surrounded recent county board budget discussions, and many in attendance were concerned fair was in jeopardy of being defunded by the county. In the end, county contributions to the fair remained in the budget which was recently approved by the county board of supervisors.
According to fair coordinator Thomas Barnett, however, the county is pushing the fair toward self funding and does intend to eventually remove all county funding for the fair in the future.
The approved county budget provides the fair with a $16,000 contribution.
“It used to be a lot more,” Barnett explained, “but every year slowly they pull a little bit more away, asking the fair to become more self sufficient and self funded to eventually be able to pull away from the fair completely, and just have the fair completely self funded.”
Barnett, along with eight fair board members, do what they can with the money provided by the county, but Barnett said it is only enough to pay for electricity, the porta-potties and some of the garbage costs. The funding from the county is the only funding the fair receives other than community donations and event sponsorships. They also receive a percentage of the carnival sales.
“People that have questions about the fair or negative views of the fair, those people don’t understand that we are putting on the best fair we can for the very minimum budget we have,” Barnett stated, adding, “This is literally the best we can do with what we have.”
Still, Barnett is working hard to make improvements to the fair. Recently added attractions include walking comedy and magic acts as well as a barnyard adventure feature. In addition, since many people have asked for a better carnival, Barnett has arranged for Tri-State Amusements to provide the carnival for 2020, bringing more and different rides.
With limited funding, however, there is only so much that can be done. One thing Barnett would like to see is a dedicated fairgrounds. Other county fairs have a fairgrounds that can then be rented for other events throughout the year, thus generating income. Barnett feels this is the way to push the fair toward self-sufficiency. Land could be purchased by a benefactor or simply donated to the fair, but, according to Barnett, the most efficient way to provide a fairgrounds would be for the county to donate land to the fair.
“We are actively trying to find land and trying to give the county reasons to donate land. We’re not asking the county to buy us land,” Barnett explained, “we’re asking them to donate land they already have so it wouldn’t cost them a dime. And we would get sponsorships and raise money to have it developed. So, we’re not asking them for anything beyond donating us 40 acres of land somewhere.”
Barnett said that the board, however, seems reluctant and calls the situation with the county like being “between a rock and a hard place.”
“Really the only way out at this point is either they completely defund the fair and shut us down completely or we get our own fairgrounds and we move on to becoming more self-sufficient. We cannot be self-sufficient in a city park,” Barnett remarked, later adding, “I know that once the fairgrounds are developed that it’s just going to be a win-win for everybody.”
Barnett is working hard to change the minds of county board members and is hoping they will consider proposals he brings to them regarding possible land for a fairgrounds.
“It’s such a great thing for the community every year,” Barnett said, “and to see people actively trying to make it go away is disheartening.”
In the meantime, Barnett and the fair board keep trying to bring bigger and better things to the fair in order to create a better experience for all fairgoers, especially kids.
Barnett said, “Everything that we are trying to do with the fair is to give more to the people. If you come to the fair, you’re going to see things, you’re going to do things, you’re going to have more interactive things to do, as opposed to just walking around eating cotton candy and looking at merchandise that vendors are trying to sell. All that is great and an important part of the fair, don’t get me wrong, but people want to come to the fair and actually do things, have an experience. That’s my goal; it’s to give them an experience.”
The 2020 fair is scheduled July 31-Aug.3. Expanded fundraising efforts will begin in the spring.