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County fair has small shortfall, big impact

An estimated 45,000 people attended the 2017 Douglas County Fair during its four-day run, an increase of 5,000 from 2016. New improvements help draw people to the fair, according to organizers. (Danny Sieve / Special to the Osakis Review)1 / 2
People of all ages walk through the 9/11 Never Forget mobile exhibit that was on display at the Douglas County Fair this past August. (Celeste Edenloff | Osakis Review)2 / 2

The Douglas County Agricultural Association invested heavily into the fair this year, making improvements and bringing in new attractions like a traveling exhibit that honored the victims and heroes in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The association's goal: Bring people back who haven't experienced the fair in awhile.

Although the fair ended up $7,400 short of breaking even on its $335,000 budget, the strategy was still a success, according to Kevin Brezina, the association's treasurer who recently presented his annual report to the Douglas County Board.

Many fair-goers didn't know about the new attractions, such as the 9/11 exhibit, which cost $26,500 to bring here, and they'll be coming back for more in the years ahead, Brezina said. "They didn't know how much the fair has changed and what it has to offer," he said. "Overall, we feel it was a good fair but we have some challenges ahead of us in the next year or two or three."

At the top of the list — maintaining the buildings and grounds.

The grounds need about $250,000 worth of asphalt work.

The grandstand needs about $10,000 of interior work on the booths.

The maintenance shop needs a $6,000 roof.

The grounds need another $10,000 in electric upgrades, and other buildings need about $150,000 in repairs over the next several years, Brezina said.

Douglas County Board Chairman Jim Stratton suggested one way the association could raise more money — increasing the annual $5 membership dues to $50. "Five bucks — that's hardly worth writing a check out," Stratton said.

Brezina noted that the dues were recently raised from $1 to $5 but he would bring Stratton's suggestion back to the fair board.

The association is coming off a busy year, investing about $30,000 in capital improvement projects on the grounds — adding indoor LED lights (a move that saved the association nearly $5,000), upgrading lighting on the grounds, expanding the public address system, improving grandstand wiring and adding electric meters to all buildings to help ensure accurate billing.

The association also invested in the cattle barn by installing a new level floor and making electric upgrades.

Other tweaks included realigning the new main stage, adding a "Man Cave" area, upgrading the fair offices, repairing the bus garage roof, remodeling the Department of Natural Resources building, and painting and repairing windows at the old schoolhouse.

The association is also working with the Alexandria City Council on a long-range plan for the fairgrounds property, which could include swapping some land, Brezina said. One possibility is to move the grandstand to the west.

The city is also looking into surfacing the area between the Runestone Community Center and the grandstand — a $750,000 project.

County contributes to ag association

Later in the meeting, the board voted 3-1 to contribute $10,000 to the agricultural association next year, which is the amount in the county's 2018 budget. It's a $4,000 increase from this year.

Charlie Meyer voted against the appropriation. Keith Englund, who serves on the association board, abstained.

Fair funding

The association's revenue for 2017 totaled $335,033. Here are the top 10 funding sources:

Gate sales — $122,972.

Carnival rides — $45,681.

Booths and concessions — $29,477.

Fair Boosters — $24,146.

Off-season rent — $23,190.

Viking Speedway — $17,200.

Government support — $13,858.

Contributions — $12,395.

Miscellaneous revenue — $10,715.

Utilities reimbursement from renters — $9,184.

The association's expenses totaled $318,688. Here are the top 10 expenses:

Administrative — $51,802.

Grounds expense — $33,589.

Advertising and promotions — $26,916.

Off-stage entertainment expense — $26,501.

Utilities expense — $25,036.

Premium expense — $21,428.

Carnival expense — $15,615.

Grounds labor — $14,576.

Stage entertainment expense — $12,548.

Sales tax — $9,553.

This left the association with a net operating levy of $16,346. After subtracting building and equipment depreciation and reconciliation, this left the budget with a shortfall of $7,433.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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