After years of receiving little funding from the state, fairs throughout California may soon have an abundance of income thanks to legislation introduced by Assembly member Adam Gray which was overwhelmingly approved by the State Assembly on Wednesday.
Assembly Bill 1499 would create an ongoing source of funding to California’s financially strapped network of fairs, providing annual funds of approximately $15 million for reinvestment back into the state’s 78 fairgrounds.
“State fairs are economic engines, creating jobs, attracting investments and serving as a place to stage agricultural, educational and charitable events,” said Gray. “In Merced and Stanislaus County, we know just how important the fairgrounds are to the community. They are far too valuable for our state to continue to ignore.”
Fairs throughout California have faced many challenges, with the most recent being the loss of continuous fair funding in the 2011-2012 Budget due to the state’s growing fiscal problems at the time. As a result, fairs were required to be self-sufficient as of Jan. 1, 2012.
Currently, state and local fairs are one of the few public entities that do not receive a portion of the locally-generated sales tax. AB 1499 would require that an amount (3/4 of one percent) of the total of gross receipts reported to the Department of Finance be included in the next annual budget for allocation to fairs.
“Fairs have struggled to stay open since the state eliminated funding during the recession,” said Gray. “This legislation restores a portion of that funding to keep these valuable assets open and thriving.”
While many fairs throughout California have found it difficult to operate or have even been forced to close down because of a lack of state funding, the Stanislaus County Fair has uncharacteristically thrived in the years since the recession, said spokesperson Adrenna Alkhas, thanks to a supportive community.
“We actually have done very well and haven’t struggled,” said Alkhas. “The number one reason is because our community has come together for us.”
Through help from organizations like the Friends of the Fair Foundation and partnerships with local businesses, the Stanislaus County Fair has been able to afford operation costs that otherwise would have been difficult to sustain.
“Receiving those grants and sponsorship dollars that we needed has helped us sustain ourselves,” said Alkhas. “It’s been so wonderful working with the community and having those types of partnerships.”
Still, the fair here in town would benefit greatly from additional funding from the state, Alkhas added. Buildings throughout the fairgrounds are old and outdated, with some lacking proper air conditioning. The fair’s livestock area could use technology updates as well, she said, and the organization is behind in other tech-savvy improvements throughout its location due to a lack of funds.
“We just set up our Wi-Fi here a few years ago, and we should have had it way sooner,” said Alkhas. “Technology is huge now, and we would benefit a great deal from this funding.”
In addition to hosting the fair, it’s important that the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds is properly maintained for emergency situations, such as when the area served as an evacuation center during recent flooding.
“In those situations, we are crucial to the community,” said Alkhas. “Anytime there’s a crisis, our facility is going to be used.”
Proper funding for the fair is not only important to the organization itself, but local businesses, foundations and nonprofits that generate their own revenue through working at the fair. For example, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5059 sells hamburgers at the fair annually, and countless other organizations manage booths throughout the duration of the fair in order to raise funds.
The fair is important for students, too, like those who rely on auction funds from their FFA animals, or 4-H participants who look forward to the event every year.
“If we were no longer able to fund the fair, all of these people would suffer as well,” said Alkhas.
Gray’s fair funding bill will next move on to the California State Senate for consideration.