The Thurston County Fair received about $40,000 from the state last spring that helped pay for ribbons for contest entries and prize money for award-winning animals and artwork.
But with cuts expected for the state’s fair fund, fair manager Rick Storvick says he has no idea what to expect when the state check arrives this year.
“My guess is it’s going to create serious challenges,” he said. “We were already running a little bit thin. This just will pose new and unique challenges to us.”
Gov. Chris Gregoire’s supplemental budget calls for cutting fair funding in half. That leaves about $1 million up for grabs, said Jason Kelly, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture, the agency that allocates fair fund money. Proposed cuts are deeper for 2012 and 2013, with $500,000 budgeted in those years, he added.
The state House voted last month to reinstate $500,000 in funding this year but also included wording to suspend payments the next two years, Kelly said.
Funding for community and youth fairs, such as the Lewis County Spring Youth Fair, will come first because they typically have fewer funding options.
Storvick said having less state money flowing in will have a huge effect on Thurston County’s fair.
Fair fund dollars make up 8 percent of the county fair’s annual revenue. About $15,000 is spent on premiums for exhibitors, such as prizes, and paying for judges. Last year, the average check was for about $17, with a low of 48 cents and a high of $231, Storvick said.
And while categories for art, animals and crafts likely will not disappear, he fears people might stop entering contests if there are no prizes or judges.
“I would see it take more of a ripple effect,” Storvick said.
Fairs statewide are on edge about the proposed cuts, according to a recent survey by the Washington State Fairs Association. More than half of the 50 fairs that responded said they probably couldn’t survive if the fair fund was eliminated.
The Thurston County Fair is no stranger to funding challenges. The fair received no funding from the county’s general fund in 2009 or 2010 after receiving $113,000 in 2008, Storvick said.
Those cuts affected Storvick, who saw his hours cut and was forced to rely more on volunteers. Instead of just bringing in volunteers to paint a building, volunteers are now asked to also provide the paint. When budget cuts forced the fair to go from two tractors to one, volunteers also came forward to provide machinery.
This year the county has reinstated about $58,000 in fair funding, but the money will not be allocated until later this year to see if the fair can come up with the money on its own, Storvick said.
Although the newest round of funding issues is seen as a serious challenge that might alter how the fair operates, Storvick remains optimistic that volunteers and the excitement of those five days in August will continue to push the fair forward.
“We’ve been around since 1871, and we’ll be here in 2071,” he said.
More than 30,000 people attended the fair last year, which was a 14 percent increase from 2009, fair figures show. It also had the fifth-most ticket sales in the past 15 years.