Island County Fair threatened by governor's budget

The future of the Island County Fair as it has long been known could be in the balance as the Washington State Legislature convenes next week to start hacking away at the state budget.

"Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed budget guts the fund that supports agricultural fairs across the state," Sandey Brandon, Island County Fair manager, said Wednesday. She said the fair in Langley receives almost $40,000 a year from the fund.

If the governor’s proposed cuts pass the Legislature, that amount will be cut in half or may be eliminated completely, Brandon said. "Without the allocation expected in March this year, the fair will most likely not be able to pay premiums to exhibitors, both youth and adult, will have to reduce or discontinue buying ribbons and other awards, and judges' fees will be effected. Other fair programs may be reduced as well," Brandon said.

The Fair Fund, which has not increased since 1993, currently has a balance of $2 million that is scheduled to be paid to the 68 county and community fairs in Washington this spring. The governor’s supplemental budget takes away $1.2 million of that promised $2 million.

In the 2011-2013 budget, Gregoire cuts the Fair Fund from $4 million to $1 million. The intent is to provide funding for community and youth shows, but not county fairs, as explained in the governor's budget message.

"That means no check in 2012 or beyond," Brandon said. She argued that county fairs serve many youth who are not part of organized groups. Most youth shows are limited to 4-H and FFA, but Island County has not had an FFA program for many years and the 4-H program has been cut from the county budget while supporters scramble to fund it through grants and donations.

Brandon and other fair managers will fight the governor's proposed cuts. "Fairs play a vital role in economic development for numerous small businesses. Vendors create jobs and sales tax revenue," she said.

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