By Aaron Butler
SALT LAKE CITY — “Our state fair is a great state fair,” wrote Rodgers and Hammerstein in the lyrics of the 1945 classic film entitled “State Fair”. Rural lawmakers, in particular, want to keep it that way.
Today the Utah Fairpark, located in west Salt Lake, is more than 100 years old and over it’s long tenure it has been hit by financial instability, and is now facing big problems. Legislators from rural Utah have gathered on Capitol Hill to address these issues and ensure that the state fair remains profitable, and the fairgrounds are able to attract paid events during the off-season.
The Fairpark was privatized with the mandate to become financially self-sufficient. Now it’s broke, and State Fair Corp. will run out of money at the end of March.
Michael Steele, the new executive director for the State Fair Corp., has been recruited to fix the problems. But at this point, hard work may not be enough to save the fair, unless they can get the Utah Legislature to give them an additional $750,000 of funding.
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, in particular has voiced strong concern at a committee meeting Feb. ywith how the State Fair Corp. has been operating. He expressed that the organization’s financial records reflect irresponsible handling of funds, and that he won’t support funding until these matters are resolved.
According to Valentine, the fair managers needs to do four things:
First, fix its lack of internal controls. Second, change its unrealistic, “pie-in-the-sky” budget. Third, require an of approval process for expenditures (as it currently does not have one) and, fourth, produce a full disclosure of what the organization intends to do with the money they are requesting.
“I’m going to need to see those four things before I can put up a vote,” Valentine said. “and I’m thinking that other members around this table have got the same types of concerns.”
“We’ve got challenges and you’ve identified them, Senator,” Steele responded. “And I’m willing to stand up and tackle them.”
The legislators voiced their support of Steele and his team and encouraged them to keep working and make the needed changes.
“There is strong support on this committee for when we make the appropriation but we may not have enough money in our budget to be able to fund it,” said Rep. Michael Noel, R- Kanab.
In order to get the additional funding, legislators will need support from Gov. Gary Herbert to tap into executive funding. Noel will be meeting with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox to help start get the appropriations process moving.
“[Cox] is very supportive of this,” Noel said. “He’s a good spokesman for agriculture and I’m sure the governor is, too. I think it’s going to be good.”
Steele is taking on his new job with vision that Utah can, and should, have the best state fair in the country.
Members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee are optimistic as the audit of State Fair Corp. continues.