Meadville Tribune

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March 22, 2014

Officials defend increase in gate fee at county fair

MEADVILLE — While people are sounding off anonymously in The Meadville Tribune about a $3 increase the gate fee for the 2014 Crawford County Fair, some fair board members say they’ve had little or no contact directly from the public about the issue.

“I’ve only had one person express a concern to me,” Walter (Boots) Dunn, fair board president, said in an interview Friday.

For the 2014 fair this August, the nine-member volunteer fair board raised the daily gate fee to $8 for everyone above 5 years of age, but the price includes ride-a-rama, a daily pass for the amusement rides.

Last year, the gate fee was $5 per person, for those ages 12 and older with ride-a-rama an additional $20 fee.

An online poll by the Tribune about the increased price drew 342 responses, with 62 percent of those voting saying they won’t attend the 2014 fair because of the jump in price. Poll results and public comments about the price increase are on today’s editorial page, A-4.

Though it is a $3 price increase, the fair board points out the 2014 fair still will have two senior citizens days with free admission until 5 p.m. for those age 65 and older with proof of age; Crawford County 4-H and FFA members still are admitted to the fair for free; and weekly passes are available for both exhibitors and concessionaires, and for the general public.

Also, the fair board notes there are a number of free admission events included with the gate fee — including a professional wrestling show one day; the Miss Crawford County Fair Pageant; a free music concert one night at the main grandstand; a free circus with multiple shows during the week; harness racing multiple days; and a number of demonstrations.

“Some people will benefit and some won’t (with the price change),” Dunn said. “But we need to pay for the entertainment we offer free to the public.”

The fair board also has to pay for maintenance and planned improvements to the grounds.

“We reinvest in the fair,” said Diana Perry, the fair board’s treasurer. “This year, we’re updating by replacing another draft horse barn. We want to make improvements to the horse show rings this year.”

More than $100,000 worth of renovations have been finished at the Crawford County Fairgrounds since the 2012 fair. Two major projects for 2013 were the construction of a new draft horse barn measuring 22 feet by 102 feet and upgrading the main electrical service at the fair office.

Also, there were multiple roof repairs, adding water and electrical service to camp sites between Gates 3 and 4 and paving work prior to the 2013 fair.

The fair board does about $50,000 to $100,000 annually in capital improvements. Some like construction of a grandstand and larger main performance stage are high profile items, while others like utility improvements aren’t necessarily seen.

“We have to work on the buildings,” Perry said. “It costs money.”

Ron Kerr, a fair board member from the Titusville area, said he, too, has not heard directly from the public, but is aware of comments through the media.

“Anytime you make a change (in price) it’s going to surprise people,” Kerr said.

However, Kerr said the fair board’s goal is to continue to improve the eight-day event — whether it be for the livestock and agricultural exhibits or for the comfort of those attending.

“If we’re going to make changes and improvements, it has to be good for the public and the fair,” said Kerr.

Dunn agrees.

“We need to reinvest in the fair,” he said. “Everything costs more over time.”

However, Dunn admits how much the $3 price increase may affect the fair’s paid attendance for 2014 is unknown until the fair begins in August. The fair averages more than 70,000 in paid attendance for the event.

“We hope we earn enough to pay the bills when we’re done,” Dunn said.

“We could change it back for 2015,” Dunn said of the gate fee if board members felt the price increase had an adverse impact on attendance.

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