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Volunteers, new board leader prep for Butler County Fair

Working to bring the 165th installment of the Butler County Fair to residents is a new board that won’t let a spate of distractions keep them from plans to expand the event and use of the grounds it is held on.

The fair runs from July 26 through Aug. 1 and registration started last week.

In addition to the hiring of a new secretary/office manager, fair preparations are being largely managed with a new board and volunteers.

“So far they are doing a fantastic job,” Board President Doug Turner said of the 10-person board.

Anne Ridenour, who was volunteering at the fairground office on Wednesday, agreed the fair would be hard to organize without help from volunteers like herself. She said she learned of the need from her brother, who is on the fair board.

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“I’m doing it just to help out the 4-H kids,” she said adding she had a child who participated in 4-H years ago.

New board president

Dan Martin had been on the fair board for 30 years and the fair manager for 26 years until last November, when he was not re-elected as board secretary and he and his wife, Linda, were not reappointed as manager and bookkeeper, respectively.

“They made a decision so we’re gone,” he said. “I don’t know what to say because I was never given a reason.”

Turner declined to discuss the reasons for Martin not being re-elected, but said he does not characterize it as a firing.

“Dan was the fair manager for 26 years and he did a fantastic job, did a great job. The board has no problem with what Dan has done or with Dan or anything else,” Turner said. “We’re not going to get into a he-said-she-said. We’re not going to be part of the drama, we’re not trying to run anybody down the road, we’re just not going to do that.”

According to Martin, the 10-member fair board has lost half its members — three others were not re-elected and one man resigned — in the past two years. The board’s attorney, Jeff Rulon, also resigned this year, but he called it a “friendly resignation.”

During a reorganization meeting in November, board member Leon Simpson opined that the fair manager should not be a board member going forward. He also called for a state audit of the books, according to meeting minutes.

“Simpson moved to contact the state auditor to conduct an audit on the books, to assure all was in place and correct, in order to protect the outgoing treasure and secretary as well as the current board moving forward,” the minutes read.

The meeting minutes from Dec. 29 note the fair board had $2,854 in the “treasury.” The last 990 tax exempt form filed for the fair board was last summer for Dec. 1, 2012, through Nov. 30, 2013. It showed a negative $3,694 balance with $959,923 in revenues and $963,617 in expenses and compensation and benefits for the fair board members and Martin as the manager totalling $102,938.

Brittany Halpin, press secretary for the state auditor, said the fair board did request a voluntary audit but her office finally received the last of the documents they needed to complete the audit on Thursday. Various bank accounts for the fair board show a balance of $63,170 as of May 31.

New building hits funding snag

The fair board hit a rough patch financially when they ran out of funds while building the new year-round multi-purpose building. The building was estimated at $1.7 million initially, but a state audit report for 2012 and 2013 indicates the fair board took out a loan for $1.1 million in September 2012. Turner said he didn’t know off hand the amount of loan payments, but said they increase in five-year increments.

County Administrator Charlie Young said the fair board reached out to Butler County commissioners and others for help.

“There were some issues with the new building, cost overruns had come into play,” Young said. “The Hamilton Community Foundation, the visitor’s bureau and then some CDBG money was made available, specifically to help with ADA compliance, that infusion of funding from those sources enabled them to finish that building and put it into operation.”

The county’s Community Development Manager Desmond Maaytah said the county chipped in $30,000 in Community Development Block Grant money for the project.

“They had substantially completed the building, the exterior shell, but they didn’t have any restrooms built, so naturally you couldn’t get a certificate of occupancy for the public to come in,” Maaytah said. “It was such a great building that the commissioners wanted to help them finish up the HVAC and the restrooms.”

Betsy Hope, the director of communications for the community foundation, said they anted up $50,000 toward the project in June 2013, with the caveat that the fair board secure the remainder of the $150,000 needed to finish the building by Aug.15 of that year.

The Butler County Visitor’s Bureau picked up the remainder of the tab, offering $70,000. BCVB Executive Director Mark Hecquet said the 40,000-square-foot structure offers an excellent opportunity to bring events of all kinds to the county, where there are few comparable indoor venues.

Plans for the future

Hecquet said he, community foundation staff and county officials have been meeting frequently with fair board members to discuss traffic solutions for during the fair and future uses on the grounds.

“There are all sorts of different groups out there. Take the agricultural sector alone, in terms of those kind of farm related events whether it be equipment shows, animal shows there’s all kinds of different elements there,” he said. “We’ve used it for sporting events already, we’ve used it for conventions that need the space as well as the use fairground land for non-traditional things. It provides us a unique site.”

There are a few punch list items still outstanding on the building, but the fair board does have a temporary occupancy permit. For his part Turner said he would like to have bookings at the grounds every weekend soon. He said they have had their struggles, but things are looking up.

“We were a little behind the eight ball but we’ve had a lot of businesses and people stepped up and we’ve gotten a lot of donations,” he said. “Things are starting to come together for us so things are good.”

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