Casualties from Tooele County’s budget crisis continue to grow, and just what, or who may fall next, may not necessarily be by the county commissioners’ hands.
Case in point: Last week’s somewhat expected, yet still puzzling announcement that the 2013 Tooele County Fair has been canceled. A week ago, the 25-member Tooele County Fair Board voted to nix this year’s fair. They did so evidently because of the county’s budget troubles, yet perhaps more in response to sweeping worker layoffs at Deseret Peak Complex last month — home of the fair since 1999.
Commissioners Bruce Clegg, Jerry Hurst and Shawn Milne are members of the fair board. Yet, according to Mark McKendrick, who is chairman of that board and also the county’s director of parks and recreation, it was the board’s volunteer members who sought the cancellation, not the commissioners.
Regardless of who pulled the pin, the decision sparks a few points that merit consideration. The first involves money. Last year, and presumably for several years past, the fair’s budget has been paid for — in part or entirely — by Transient Room Taxes (TRT), and Tourism, Recreation, Culture and Convention Facilities Taxes (TRCC). TRCC is more commonly known as “the restaurant tax.”
TRT and TRCC funds are generated by lodging and restaurant patrons in the county; they do not come from citizens’ real or personal property taxes. Funds collected from TRT and TRCC last year totaled $660,000 for the county. According to the county’s 2013 budget, it is projected to net $740,000 this year.
TRT/TRCC funds can only be used, as specified by Utah Code, to “establish, finance and promote recreation, tourism, film production and conventions.” Because the annual Tooele County Fair attracts both residents and visitors, the event certainly falls within the state’s TRT/TRCC funding guidelines.
As reported in last Tuesday’s page-one story, “60-year-old county fair falls to budget crisis,” the three-day 2012 fair cost $192,000 to put on, excluding staff time, and reportedly generated $141,000 in revenue. As for the $51,000 difference, the county paid it. Was that difference paid with funds from the county’s general operating budget, or with TRT/TRCC funds? If the latter applies, and since TRT/TRCC funds can only be spent on recreation and tourism, could it be argued that the demise of the fair may have little or nothing to do with budget shortfalls?
The next point has to do with staffing. When the commissioners laid-off the entire parks and recreation department on March 5, taking away all employees at Deseret Peak Complex, they instructed McKendrick to take 30 days to develop a new operational plan for parks and recreation, and also for Deseret Peak Complex.
That plan was thought to include staffing requirements to keep Deseret Peak Complex functional with an emphasis on profitability. McKendrick’s 30 days to produce that plan expire this Friday. But without details of that plan fully known (at least to the media and public), details that may offer an affordable staffing solution at Desert Peak Complex, the fair board still canceled the fair. Was this an oversight by the board? Or was it something else?
Although some of the fair’s popular events may still be held this summer, like the annual junior livestock show and 4-H exhibits, regrettably it won’t be the same.
Yet, maybe, just maybe, the fair can still be saved from the growing casualty list?