The Wallowa County Commission voted recently to place a new hotel tax on the ballot in the fall. Approval of the measure would raise the hotel tax on the county unincorporated community by an additional 3 percent.
The money would be split 70 percent to the Fair Grounds (approximately $78,000) and 30 percent to the county sheriff. Wallowa Lake lodging operators would pay more than 95 percent of this new tax.
The fair grounds is an important part of our community, and we should work to keep it viable. It supports important functions to include 4H and FFA, our agriculture and ranching community and local organization that use the facilities. The community agrees the fair grounds is in need of repairs.
They currently have $34,500 per year to maintain their buildings ($28,000 budgeted maintenance and supplies plus $6,500 from the electrical budget). If managed well, this is more than enough money for repairs.
This conclusion is based on attending the fair board meetings, reviewing their financials, studying the property, volunteering with their maintenance person and experience in maintaining a 1-acre property and nine buildings (over a 10-year period).
The fair board could easily raise another $15,000 from additional revenue sources. This would include charging more for use of the facilities (the fees are unrealistically low), adding an entry fee to the fair, adding more paid vendors to the fair, adding a sponsor program and charging for dry camping.
The fair board would need to change its mission from running a fair to being involved in tourism. I have pushed this idea, but have made little progress. A fair board member specifically stated “our mission is the fair.”
In total, the fair board, with additional revenue sources, could have close to $50,000 to perform maintenance and repairs. This is in addition to their budgeted half-time county maintenance employee.
How they would spend an additional $78,000 of tax revenue is unclear. The ideas from the fair board include upgrades to the electric system, funding their county maintenance person at full-time and upgrading Cloverleaf Hall.
I recommend getting involved and asking the board for a detailed plan.