Highland News Leader

Madison County Fair is on as planned even as governor eyes cuts

Madison Rensing participates in the beef cattle show at last year’s Madison County Fair.
Madison Rensing participates in the beef cattle show at last year’s Madison County Fair. News Leader

Madison County Fair-goers can see the same great attractions they have come to expect at next month’s fair — and even some new ones. But that might not hold true a few years from now, due to pending state budget cuts, according to Madison County Fair Board president Wayne Steiner.

Funding for county fairs is now on a shortlist of cuts Gov. Bruce Rauner, who says he will go forward with it, if there is no budget deal by the end of the month.

Steiner believes the Madison County Fair has enough money in its coffers to survive the next three years “even if they make only a dime” at this year’s event, which will be held July 21-26 at Lindendale Park in Highland.

But, after that, it’s anyone’s guess.

“We will have to watch how we spend our pennies, nickles and dimes,” Steiner said.

Lawmakers have until July 1 to craft a budget deal. If they don’t, Rauner has prepared a list of state funding cuts, which includes county fairs, to balance the budget. His office says there is no other option.

Democrats in the state legislature have approved a budget that’s about $4 billion dollars short, which the governor has said he plans to veto.

“Gov. Rauner has comprised repeatedly, but (House Speaker Mike) Madigan and the politicians he controls continue to block any real reform,” said Rauner spokesman Lance Trover. “It’s deeply troubling to see that Speaker Madigan remains committed to sacrificing the middle class in order to protect the political class.”

Among Rauner’s latest proposed cuts, would include:

▪ Suspending funding to county fairs for premiums and fairground rehabilitation projects; and

▪ Suspending funding for agricultural extension and 4-H clubs for premiums at agricultural shows.

Information from the Illinois Department of Agriculture indicates that the Madison County Fair paid out $64,327 in premiums last year. State aid covered $24,635 of that amount.

Steiner is hoping the state will offset more of that prize money in the future, but he doubts the state will ever fully fund the programs like it did years ago.

If future prize money is cut back, or isn’t even available in the future, Steiner fears some fair entrants might no longer participate.

“A number of entrants don’t enter fairs just to win a ribbon,” he said.

Steiner fears many fairs will be discontinued, like St. Clair County did this year.

In addition to money for prizes, Madison and other county fairs get funding from the state for rehabilitation projects at the fairgrounds.

Madison County recently received $13,250 for such projects, and according to state officials, that money is also on the chopping block if there’s no budget agreement by July 1.

If that money is cut, the Madison County Fair Board will have to find another funding source to help pay for new light fixtures in the exposition hall, Steiner said.

“Those fixtures will cost anywhere between $15,000 to $17,000,” he said.

Steiner credited the Madison County Fair’s survival to the organization’s board, which anticipated state cuts coming as far back as a decade ago.

“I get the state of Illinois is broke,” Steiner said. “And everybody has kick in something. But, to give us no money and stop funding for fairs in its entirety is really going to end up killing us.”

Last year, Steiner estimated around 90,000 people attended the Madison County Fair.

Economic Impact of Illinois County Fairs

In cooperation with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs partnered with University of Illinois Extension to perform an economic impact study for the 2014 Illinois agricultural fairs. Data was gathered through surveys and interviews at 15 county fairs. Spending patterns of fair attendees and the associated local economic structure provide the necessary data for the economic impact analysis. Data gathered from the key informant interviews was aggregated to identify the most significant benefits of county agricultural fairs as identified by local community members.

The study revealed:

▪ The 2014 county agricultural fair program produced an estimated statewide economic impact of $90 million and supported a total of 1,000 jobs. In other words, if county agricultural fairs were eliminated, the state would see a loss of $90 million in economic activity, as well as a loss of 1,000 jobs.

▪  In 2014, the Illinois Department of Agriculture appropriated $5.1 million for county fairs. It is estimated the state’s return is 18 times greater than their original investment in 2014.

▪ During the summer of 2014, it was estimated that approximately $170 million was spent as a result of the county fairs. Of that $170 million, an estimated $90 million in transactions occurred directly within the state economy.

▪ County fairs in the northern zone generated an estimated economic impact of $44 million, an economic impact of $17 million in the central zone, and an economic impact of $12 million in the southern zone.

▪ Small fairs generate an average estimated economic impact of $315,000; medium fairs generate $900,000; and large fairs generate $3 million.

▪ Illinois county fairs generated an estimated collective total revenue of $90 million in 2014.

▪ County agricultural fairs provide non-monetary benefits to the local community. They serve as a catalyst for continuing local traditions, increasing unity within communities and families, and providing agriculture education for all ages.

▪ The primary challenges facing Illinois county fairs include: lack of state and local funding, diminishing appeal to the younger generation, and the challenge of keeping fairs relevant amidst trends of declining involvement in agriculture.

Source: Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs