Opinion

Sound off: Island County Fair is no burden to taxpayers

By Sandey Brandon

Your tax dollars at work?

During the recent sometimes contentious budget deliberations, one area the county commissioners didn’t consider cutting is the Island County Fair.

That’s because county taxpayers don’t foot the bill for the annual fair.

Never have.

The primary purpose of the Island County Fair Association is education, and it appears from his inaccurate Jan. 13 letter to the editor that Mr. Strowbridge and the citizenry at large might benefit by becoming better informed. At the least, taxpayers should know what their taxes do and do not support.

Initially incorporated in 1912 as a private stock company, the Island County Fair Association refined its structure and reincorporated in 1923 as a Washington state nonprofit organization. In 2002, the Fair Association qualified for and received 501(c)3 nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service.

From the acquisition in 1934 of the first parcel of land for $300, through construction begun in 1935 to the Pole Building’s completion in 1937, with the addition of horse barns and exhibit halls erected during the ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s .... the Fair Association owned and maintained the fairgrounds with the indispensable help of its many volunteers and without county involvement.

In 1962, the fairgrounds property was granted to Island County with the stipulation that the land could never be sold without a majority vote of the descendants of the South Whidbey pioneer families who built it with their own funds and sweat equity, as represented by voters within the South Whidbey School District boundaries.

On April 2, 1962, the Board of County Commissioners resolved “... that a separate fund be created in the County Treasurer’s office to be designated as the ‘Island County Fair Fund’ into which ... all pari-mutuel funds ... and all fair receipts ... be deposited, and ... the County Auditor be authorized to provide a Revolving Fund to be used by fair officials for the conduct of the fair ...”

From inception and for the past 47 years, the Island County Fair Fund has not been included in the county’s Current Expense Fund, which has been the hot topic throughout much of the past year. The Fair Association pays interest on any revolving fund start-up money borrowed from the county.

Thus, while Island County citizens own the land, the Fair Association continues to manage the fairgrounds on a self-supporting basis, as it has done since Albert Melsen advanced that initial $300 to purchase an old chicken ranch. It is only within the past decade that the county commissioners have even budgeted minimal funds from real estate excise taxes that are restricted to capital improvements of the facility.

So, those are the facts, just the facts. As an Island County taxpayer with a home valued at $433,512 who paid $207.18 to the county’s Current Expense Fund, I know where my dollars are NOT going.

And that is the Island County Fair.

Coupeville resident Sandey Brandon is administrator of the Island County Fair.

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