Fair finances look promising

It will be a while before the Washington County Fair Board can tell for certain how the 2013 edition did from a financial perspective, but they do know one thing – more people came through the gates than the last couple of years.

“We did well as far as attendance,” fair board Treasurer Sandra Hickey said. “It was up from last year.”

Total attendance for this year’s fair was 20,736, up nearly 1,100 from 2012 and almost 9,200 from 2011 when rain washed out the last two days of the fair. But the board is still paying bills and won’t know for a couple months whether this year’s fair finished in the black.

“I’m going to say it’s probably going to be close,” Hickey said.

It costs between $50,000 and $75,000 a year to put on the event, she said.

The fair lost $50,000 to $60,000 in 2011, and rain returned in 2012 to contribute to an approximately $15,000 loss then. That left the board with some outstanding bills to pay from those years, in addition to covering 2013 expenses.

“We needed one good year,” said fair board President Paul Barth.

One strategy the board tried to save money this year was bringing in a new ride company, Cromer United Amusements from Easton. Fair board member Richard Henthorn said the company received a flat fee of $22,000, about half the amount paid to previous provider Deshler Amusements.

But with those savings came complaints from some fair-goers about the quality, appearance and number of the rides.

“They were state-inspected. … They seemed to be in good working order,” Henthorn said, noting one ride’s motor quit running and had to be repaired. “And you get what you pay for.”

Henthorn said the new company was on a one-year contract, and the board will evaluate its options before selecting an amusement company for 2014.

“The better known they are, the higher price they are,” he said. “And then they’ve got to have a date open.”

Some MariettaTimes.com users said they felt there wasn’t enough bang for their buck at this year’s fair. Henthorn noted prices haven’t risen for several years, and the $8 admission fee covers rides and entertainment.

“You can’t please everybody all the time,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to talk to them and explain it’s a business. We can’t go in and give it away like they do at the Sternwheel Festival.”

But there were plenty of positives this year as well. The weather cooperated, prices for champion animals were up and activities like Chase’s Racing Pigs got positive feedback. Alison Baker, Ohio State University Extension educator for 4-H and youth development, said the number of animals shown was up in every category except market beef and market rabbits, which had a few less than in 2012. Barth said events like Sunday’s Buckeye Rodeo, Monday’s Mini Monster Truck shows and Tuesday’s demolition derby were well-attended.

“I think it was great,” he said.

Henthorn said overall things went well but there is room for improvement, noting delays in some of the tractor pulls as one example. He attributed some of that to a number of newcomers on the fair board, which was operating below its full 21-person membership.

“There are a lot of areas that needed work on them, and we didn’t have enough people to get them done in a timely manner,” Henthorn said.

This year’s fair board elections yielded 20 members, and Henthorn said he hopes they’ll find a volunteer to take that 21st spot.

Having a year of experience under their belt will be a benefit to the newer board members, he said.