Politics & Government

Fair asks state to make good on matching funds

HUTCHINSON — Kansas State Fair officials continue to ask lawmakers to make a funding match in the fair's capital improvement fund, even as the state requests a review of all the fair's land assets.

Fair Manager Denny Stoecklein said he received a letter from the Department of Administration earlier this year asking him to prioritize the fair's 84,000 square feet of building space and 166 acres that is mostly used for parking lots. The request was part of an effort by state officials to review all the state's land assets.

Stoecklein told the fair board this week that in his response he stressed the importance of all the fair's assets, including the parking lots, which are used for other events during the year. Some of the space also is rented out for a driving range. "I would think once they see how we operate, they wouldn't do anything here," he said.

The review came as Stoecklein and his staff continue to try to persuade lawmakers to make a funding match required by state law. The law requires the Kansas Legislature to match up to $300,000 annually in the fair's capital improvement fund.

The state is already behind $1.34 million, after failing to make the match five times since approving the fair's $29 million master plan in 2001. That includes the current fiscal year budget.

Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed that lawmakers fund about $159,000 in the fiscal 2012 budget, which would cover the fund shortage for that year's bond payment. If the match isn't allocated this session, the state would owe $1.64 million.

The master plan renovated and upgraded the fair's infrastructure. Payment on the bonds totals about $2 million a year, with $400,000 coming from the fair, $150,000 each from Reno County and the city of Hutch-inson and the remaining $1.3 million paid by the state, fair finance director Amy Craig said.

Stoecklein said the fair uses some of the capital improvement money to help pay for the master plan. Last year, fair officials moved about $13,000 from the fair's fee fund to cover part of April's $511,000 bond payment. The fair will have to move more than $200,000 in April to cover the account's shortfall for this year, Craig said.

The city/county payment ends this year, and the fair's payment ends in fiscal 2012, she said. The state then will be required to make the entire payment in 2013. The bond payments end in 2022 and 2024. The fair is otherwise a self-supporting agency.

While Stoecklein said he did not think the state would neglect its share of a bond payment when it's due, the fair needs the $300,000 match to maintain buildings.

"We don't want to go back to the state in 10 years (asking for money) because we can't take care of what we have," Stoecklein said.

Kansas Secretary of Agricul-ture Dale Rodman asked board members if they thought the state would repay the shortfall. "I don't think we'll get the $1.3 million back," said Reno County fair board member Brad Rayl. "It just seems like we've just made the facilities nice and we rent them out 700 days a year, and I just hate... that we can't keep up with what we have."

Fair officials are also hoping that two requests stay in this year's budget — $100,000 for enhanced marketing and $20,000 to boost competitive exhibit premiums, Stoecklein said. The fair last received these funds in 2009.