Oregon state fair may get new management

Oregon state fair may get new management
Photo courtesy Glen Bledsoe on Flickr (Creative Commons).

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A political hot potato in Oregon, the State Fair, could be changing hands again as state officials grapple with its financial problems.

The fair and exposition center were an independent agency until 2006, when lawmakers wanted to wean the operation from tax dollars.

It was put under the jurisdiction of the Department of Parks and Recreation, supported by lottery proceeds, but agricultural groups have been unhappy with the move, the Salem Statesman Journal reported.

"In livestock, there just was not a sense of cooperation and desire to have people being there," said Jim Krahn, executive director for the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association. He cited The Western National Holstein Show and the Western National Jersey Show, once held at the Oregon fair but held last year in Washington state.

One proposal being readied for the Legislature would move the fair to the Oregon Tourism Commission, but an official there says managing fair and event facilities isn't what the agency is set up for.

"We're focused on marketing, sales and development around the state but certainly not from the perspective of operating facilities," said Scott West, chief strategy officer of Travel Oregon, which the tourism commission oversees.

A parks department official says there also are talks about creating a new semi-independent state agency so the fair could get exceptions to state rules on budgeting, contracting, purchasing, and personnel management.

The 11-day fair made a profit of about $1 million in 2012, but expenses for the facilities and the Expo Center continue year-round. In the 2011-13 budget cycle, the losses were estimated at $7.7 million.

"When you're talking about the facilities and expo side, it's a really heavy lift," said Lisa Van Laanen, assistant director for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

She said the fair was in "financial devastation" when it came to her department.

At the time, Gov. Ted Kulongoski called it poor policy and a quick fix for a long-term problem, but he let the bill become law because it was the only way to ensure the fair would continue.

In 2007, the parks agency sponsored a bill to restore the fair as an independent agency but it died without a public hearing. Two years later, a task force pointed out restrictions the parks department faced in running the enterprise and outlined options for more independence.

"We would like it to be in the most flexible place to give it the best business model," Van Laanen said. "We really think that giving a nonprofit or a semi-independent status would actually allow it to run more agile and respond to market issues as they come up instead of being stuck behind state processes."

Information from: Statesman Journal

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.