MONROE — The Evergreen State Fair stands to lose $82,000 in state funding for exhibitor prizes and programs if the Legislature agrees to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s revised budget for this year.
More than that, say some fair organizers, the agricultural focus of Washington’s traditional county fai
rs is threatened.
For years, the state Department of Agriculture has split a $2 million pot among 60 to 70 regional, county, community and youth fairs. Most of the state Agricultural Fair Fund is used to pay prize money to open class, 4-H and FFA young people who show their winning animals an
d farm projects at the fair.
The budget proposal intends to cut that down to $800,000 — a $1.2 million loss — this year and down to $500,000 next year.
Val Watson, president of the Washington State Fairs Association in Othello, believes the remaining $500,000 pot isn’t enough to fund all fairs.
On top of the funding cut, the governor’s office is proposing to support, at a reduced rate, all the youth and community fairs such as Silvana’s before sending any remaining money to county and regional fairs such as Evergreen State, said Jason Kelly, spokesman for the agriculture department.
“This is another unfortunate story resulting from declining state revenues,” Kelly said.
The premiums that are paid to fair exhibitors help cover their costs, Watson said.
“These kids raise their animals, transport them to the fair and stay all week to care for them,” Watson said.
For high school students, it’s a sacrifice, said Sherry Stovner, agricultural superintendent coordinator at the Monroe fair. The premium, which averages around $100 for large animals, is a way to encourage young people to stick with agriculture, she said. More than 2,100 children and teens participated in the Evergreen State Fair last year.
“I don’t know a lot of high school kids who are going to work their buns off for a ribbon,” Stovner said. “We might not even be able to buy the ribbons.”
And what if the farm kids don’t come to the fair? Will the public?
Run by Snohomish County, the $2.3 million Evergreen State Fair generates hundreds of seasonal jobs and many benefits to the county’s economy, said Debbie Donk, a member of the fair association’s legislative committee and a program specialist at the Monroe fair. Nonprofit organizations also raise money at the fair, and the fairgrounds are used for emergency housing for animals during floods or fires, she said.
“The fair is an important part of our community,” she said.
Donk and others also expressed concern about the potential damage to the fair’s agricultural focus if Snohomish County can’t attract farmers and young people to show off the fruits of their farms.
While any loss of funding is difficult in the current economic climate, the county will do what it needs to protect the agricultural aspect of the Evergreen State Fair, said county parks director Tom Teigen.
“We don’t want to lose that,” he said.
In Silvana, where the one-day community fair receives about $4,250 from the state, organizers Roy and Darlene Strotz hope the community’s auction fundraiser in March will cover potential funding cuts.
It takes about $18,000 to produce the Silvana Fair, which focuses on 4-H exhibits. The state fair fund money is paid to the winning exhibitors, mostly in the form of $10 bills, Darlene Strotz said.
“We’re anticipating a loss in funding, so we’re hoping people will come to the auction,” she said.
Stanwood-Camano Community Fair manager Kimberly Burden said 4-H and Future Farmers of America exhibits are the backbone of her event.
The state fair fund provides to the Stanwood-based fair about $11,400, which is used to pay premiums that range on average from 50 cents to $25, Burden said.
“Where would we get the money to replace the state funding?” Burden said. “That’s a good question, but as soon as the community hears about this, I think we can get creative.”
At the Island County fairgrounds in Langley, fair manager Sandey Brandon is anxious about the potential loss of $37,000 from the state fair fund.
“We’re a county fair, but the county doesn’t provide any revenue, so the governor’s budget proposal could sound the death knell for us,” Brandon said. “Our budget is so tight, we squeak.”
The state plans to get some funding for youth fairs, but far less for county fairs, Brandon said.
“In Island County, we don’t have FFA and the county cut the 4-H budget. So we have a lot of young people who are not part of the organized groups that make up the youth fairs. What about our kids? What does it cost to keep one kid in juvenile detention?”
At a glance
Evergreen State Fair
When: Aug. 25-Sept. 5
Approximate 2010 attendance: 754,805
State fair fund help last year: $75,372
When: July 30
Approximate 2010 attendance: 3,000
State fair fund help last year: $4,250
Stanwood-Camano Community Fair
When: Aug. 5-7
Approximate 2010 attendance: 42,000
State fair fund help last year: $11,400
On the Web
Island County Fair: www.islandcountyfair.com
Evergreen State Fair: www.evergreenfair.org
Stanwood-Camano Community Fair: www.stanwoodcamanofair.org
Silvana Fair: www.silvanafair.com
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.