A Letter to the Editor in the Jan. 17, 2012, Tomahawk Leader:
The county’s Public Property Committee has yet again changed its position on whether to charge user groups for the use of the county’s Fairgrounds. The committee’s original, no lease charge for the Fair Board-now Fair Association went to a proposed $2,000 for the month of July lease under Option III, but is now back to no lease charge at all. The Rodeo Association went from an approximate lease fee of $1,650 in 2011 to a proposed $700. lease fee under Option III to no lease fee. Lessees have and would continue to cover utilities.
Some of the current user groups (Animal Market and Show, American Cancer Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity, Boy Scouts of America, Good New Church Computer Recycling, and the Republican Party) would have actually seen a decrease in their lease fees under Option III, while some groups (Merrill Riders, Merrill Park and Recreation, 4-H Horse Project, 4-H Dog Program, Kelly’s Concessions, Merrill High School Float Building, and the Merrill Historical Society Old Schoolhouse Tours) would have seen an increase. The committee has now decided that since various user groups are staffed by volunteers that are also taxpayers, they should not have to pay for a county facility’s use.
Granted, comparing large income-generating lessees like the Fair Board-now Fair Association to simple user groups such as the 4-H Dog Program or Horse Project is comparing oranges to apples. No one expects blood from a turnip. Conversely, if some user groups are generating hundreds of thousands of dollars through their use of the Fairgrounds, that use can also help pay for the added costs of maintaining the facility.
Throughout the confusing process, no one has yet to address how Fairground maintenance costs that always fall back onto the tax levy will be covered. Although the $22,000 maintenance budget for the Fairgrounds is small relative to the entire county budget, it represents that much less available for the county’s general maintenance costs. And, it will not even begin to cover upcoming Fairground renovation costs.
Everyone is focusing on what it will cost him or her personally. And although every user group, for-profit or not, is arguably worthy, they represent a minority of groups, for-profit or not, in the county at large. Perhaps it is time to consider selling the facility to one or more of the user groups. That way those who have complained about being micro-managed by the county will not have that barrier to their use of the Fairgrounds and it will generate some much-needed income for the county.
Diana C. Smith