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Gophers create hazard at fair

RICKREALL — Gophers, building maintenance and an official move to a three-day fair.

Those were the topics on the Polk County Fair Board’s annual meeting on Saturday.

Fair Board Chairwoman Anna Scharf said the fairgrounds lost its maintenance manager a few months ago and hasn’t been able to replace him. For that reason, projects slated for completion this year are in limbo.

In the long term, facilities issues at the Polk County Fairgrounds & Events Center go beyond finding a new maintenance manager.

Greg Hansen, Polk County administrator, said for the last two years, the county has had to send the fairgrounds about $50,000 for projects from its economic development fund. In 2015-16, the fairgrounds will need that and a $50,000 to $75,000 infusion from the county’s general fund.

Hansen said it doesn’t appear that will be a one-time thing.

“It is something that is probably going to be necessary to keep this facility operational and safe for the people who use it,” Hansen said. “That is where this organization is going. It cannot pay for itself.”

For that reason, he’s likely to make a proposal for going out for a county maintenance bond. Polk’s road bond will expire in fiscal year 2016-17, giving the county an opportunity to ask voters to support other infrastructure needs throughout the county, including the fairgrounds.

If it moves forward, the proposal would be for $8 million to $9 million and cost less than the 52 cents per $1,000 of assessed value paid for the road bond.

“It would not go to build new buildings, but to maintain and upgrade existing infrastructure,” Hansen said.

He added Polk County Budget Committee or the Board of Commissioners hasn’t had a formal discussion or made a decision yet, something Commissioner Craig Pope made clear.

“It’s just exploration, consideration, trying to plan for what would happen,” he said.

For the immediate future, it was suggested the fair hold volunteer work days to address some basic maintenance issues. Fair Board member Tammy Dennee volunteered to organize those days if enough people would agree to help.

“Everyone has some sort of knowledge base, so if we all pull together, we could get it done,” she said.

As for the gophers, if you’ve ever taken a stroll on the pasture-playground area at the fairground, you know to watch your step. It’s a gopher haven and the critters have made their presence known with fresh mounds and holes generously dotting the landscape pretty much year-round.

It’s a problem of Caddyshack proportions that has plagued the fairgrounds for decades. Fair Manager Tina Andersen said she contacted experts for help, but hasn’t been able find a solution.

Pope suggested the fair board and the commissioners all work on trying to find a business, organization or individual who would be willing to create a gopher-free zone.

“It really does change the entire face of the fair when we have a really nice yard that people want to come hang out at,” Pope said. “This is not a yard people want to spend any time on.”

Annoying burrowing animals aside, there was plenty of positive reports from the 2015 fair.

Last year’s experiment with holding a three-day fair was a success, so the board decided to do it again. The 2016 schedule will be Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 11-13, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The beer and wine garden is returning with a more visible location and an independent operator. Feedback from last year’s new food vendors was overwhelmingly positive, and Andersen is working to add more variety.

Scharf said the opening night rodeo caused what could be considered a positive problem: It was so popular that there wasn’t enough seating. She said the board and Andersen are brainstorming ways to make more seats available for the rodeo in 2016.

“That rodeo brought in so many folks that we are going to figure out how to make it happen,” Scharf said.

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