Expo still fighting to stem budget shortfall

The Jackson County Expo may require mandatory furlough days in November and December to help offset a $110,000 budget shortfall.

"You hate to have to cut payroll every time you have a problem," said Chris Smith, Fair Board chairman.

But to avert more serious financial woes toward the end of the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2014, the Fair Board wants to take steps now.

The board, which will present its proposals to county officials, has been searching for ways to decrease expenses and increase revenues.

Attendance at the fair in July finished at about 78,000 for the six days, down from 85,850 in 2012, despite a reduction in ticket prices intended to attract more visitors.

The Expo budget will be about $1.5 million in the current fiscal year, compared with $2 million in 2012-13, a 25 percent decrease. Revenues from the fair, which is the biggest event at the Expo, are down, but expenses also have dropped significantly.

County officials have told the Expo to stop using the county as a revolving line of credit. The amount the Expo owes varies from day to day, but as of Friday, the amount was $161,592.81.

County officials have looked at leasing out the Lithia Motors Amphitheater, because it never has seen many concerts since it was built in the 2000s. Promoters have expressed more interest in the indoor Compton Arena.

Smith said he proposed cutting back on fair days to save more money, but the idea met considerable local resistance.

He said Deschutes County cut its fair days from six to five. "The fair manager said it was the best thing they'd ever done," he said.

Douglas County cut its fair from five to four days, Smith said.

The Fair Board is planning to continue with a six-day fair next summer, although Smith said there may be some discussions about cutting back on the hours for the final Sunday.

Expo Director Dave Koellermeier, whose hours will be reduced 40 percent in November and December, said the payroll cuts could be offset if the Expo can find other events that bring in more money.

"Any revenue stream coming in between now and the end of the year mitigates the problem," he said.

Despite the personnel constraints, Koellermeier said the Expo plans to continue with upcoming events such as the Harvest Fair and rodeo.

The Expo plans to have sufficient staff to man events in November and December but will likely be staffed only five days a week rather than six, Koellermeier said. Most events occur on the weekends, so the Expo will have only a skeleton crew other days.

The Expo has four full-time employees as well as part-time contract workers and other seasonal employees. The Expo has decided not to fill one open full-time position as part of its cost-cutting efforts. It will see extra revenues that weren't budgeted from a recent booking for Blue Oyster Cult on Sept. 11.

Fair Board member J.B. Dimick said the Expo has been reaching out to the community for suggestions about ways to improve the experience.

He said the Expo is looking to develop other parts of the county-owned property as well as the Family Fun Center.

"One of the things we're lacking in our county fair is relevance to our community," he said. "People want to be part of something that is successful."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

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