Isle of Wight County Fair reports $7K net loss

Published 10:08 am Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Income from this year’s Isle of Wight County Fair was insufficient to cover the costs of hosting the four-day event, resulting in a net loss of $7,758.49. David Smith, the county’s director of parks and recreation, announced the deficit during his report to the Board of Supervisors at their meeting on Thursday evening.

According to Smith, total attendance at the fair, which was held this year from Sept. 14 through 17 at the Joel Bradshaw Fairgrounds in Windsor, was 28,831. Over the past several years, fair attendance has ranged from 27,000 to 31,000. Total income from the fair was $371,998.06 and total expenses were $379,756.49.

The total income figure is approximately $55,600 less than what had been anticipated, Smith said, but he clarified that several accounts from the fair have still not been paid and may not be until the end of the current fiscal year in June 2018. So, the difference between budgeted and realized income may decrease in the next few months.

Smith attributes the net loss to several factors, including the high cost of booking entertainment acts, and a series of lightning strikes that occurred on the fairgrounds just prior to the start of the fair that damaged its public address system. County staff also realized shortly before the fair begun that they needed to replace all of its fire extinguishers, but had not budgeted for the expense.

“A lot of fairs across the nation are dealing with the skyrocketing cost of entertainment,” Smith said. “One of the challenges is how do we get quality entertainment at a reduced cost?”

A breakdown of the fair’s expenses for the year appears to show its entertainment line item having exceeded what was budgeted by over $17,000. However, Smith and Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson both explained that the original amount budgeted for entertainment had at one time been much closer to what was expended. Earlier this year, funds from the entertainment budget had been transferred to other line items to cover anticipated shortfalls.

Smith said that one solution to address the entertainment cost next year would be to hire less well-known and thus, less expensive talent, but he said that could lead to what he termed a “death spiral,” where lesser-known names do not draw as big a crowd, resulting in fewer ticket sales and another, potentially larger net loss.

The county’s annual Seafood Fest, held Sept. 13 of this year, one day before the fair began, also showed a net loss this year of around $2,000. This deficit, however, was anticipated, Smith said.

“Years ago, we used to do sponsor dinners, which cost us about $5,000, because you have to look out for your sponsors, otherwise you don’t get sponsors,” said Danny Byrum, chairman of the County Fair Committee. “When we took over the Seafood Fest, we decided to make that part of our sponsorship dinner, so yes we did lose $2,000, but we would be spending a lot more to do that sponsorship dinner. We never really expected to make money because we knew we were absorbing a lot of that sponsorship money.”

Smith added that the Seafood Fest’s deficit has increased slightly each year over the past four years.

The county incurred another unanticipated expense associated with its county fair during the citizens’ time component of the board meeting, when a young woman named Angel Castaneda informed the supervisors that her car had been damaged by a can of spray paint a county employee had left in the fairgrounds parking lot. She presented the supervisors with a cost estimate for repairs totaling just over $4,000, and said that when she had tried to get the county to pay for the damage, staff had told her to file a claim with her own insurance.

“I’ve never had a negative mark on my insurance,” she said, tearfully. “I cannot guarantee that my premiums won’t increase. I don’t think it’s fair that I take this on as my responsibility.”

The board ultimately agreed, and instructed County Administrator Randy Keaton to obtain an insurance adjuster and authorized him to expend county funds not to exceed the repair estimate she had provided.

In other business, the board voted unanimously to fund a part-time 4-H cooperative extension position to supplement the workload of the single 4-H agent currently responsible for all of Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. They also appropriated $500,000 from EMS revenues from fiscal year 2017 to the county’s capital improvement fund.

The board also passed resolutions recognizing Blackwater Riverkeeper Charles “Jeff” Turner for his 17 years of service, and Chairman Rex Alphin for his service on both the board and the county’s Planning Commission. Alphin’s term as the board’s Carrsville representative will end on Dec. 31 of this year. He will be succeeded by Don Rosie, formerly of the Planning Commission.

Another matter the board discussed was the implementation of the county’s new slogan adopted at its board retreat, rebranding the county as “the community of choice that cares.” Robertson informed the board that the county is preparing to launch a new website with the new slogan featuring video interviews with the county administrator and the board members.

“We have the upmost confidence that these will be much more appealing to a younger demographic,” Robertson said. “Video goes a long way with a younger demographic, we want to capitalize on that and our ability to do those things in house.”

The rebranding kickoff has been scheduled for January 2018.