Pa. Budget May Affect County Fair Premiums
Until the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the governor end their wrangling over cuts and tax hikes and give a final nod to the state budget, the future of millions of dollars earmarked for county and community fairs remains unknown. In Fulton County, the uncertainty and possibility of not receiving an annual allotment to offset various expenses is definitely adding a "new and difficult twist" to organizational efforts by the Fulton County Fair Board.
According to Fair Board President Clem Malot, like many other fairs statewide, the Fulton County Fair has received "premium funding" or reimbursement funds for multiple generations to offset a portion of the cost of premiums and ribbons.
"While this does not offset all expenses related just to premiums and ribbons, it has always made it possible for the fair to properly recognize the participants and help offset the tremendous operating expense for the week," said Malot, who added the county routinely receives the state maximum of approximately $20,000.
"What has probably never been said publicly before is that the Fulton County Fair relies heavily on those funds to operate the week of the fair and otherwise does not make enough money to provide the events and services residents have come to expect," Malot stated. "Even with the efforts of the many unsung volunteers ranging from the Fair Association and the McConnellsburg Fire Co. to the 4-H, FFA programs and the Grease, Steam and Rust Association coupled with the generous support of small businesses countywide, we otherwise just make it from year to year and manage to do a little more each time."
As publicized in several locations within the 2009 fair book, Malot said the fair board may be unable to pay premiums this year. Money collected from daily admission is earmarked to cover year-round operating expenses, such as electricity, sewer, taxes and grass mowing. Admission has remained relatively constant or consistent in recent years, however.
"The value for the cost of admission is a good one," said Malot. "Without the type of support the Department of Agriculture has provided through the premium reimbursement funding and their capital improvement grants, the truth of our age is that our lifestyle in Fulton County is going to be under attack."
"The only way to preserve what we have grown up with and built so many fond memories around is to become more involved in a time when we all have the tendency to become less involved," Malot concluded. "My appreciation and thanks goes out to all event volunteers for the smallest of contributions or kind words that have allowed the Ful- ton County Fair to continue this great tradition into the 89th year."
Meanwhile amid the uncertainty of funding, Malot and fellow fair board members are moving forward with their plans for this year's event set for August 16 through August 22. The fair will again start off with the traditional communitywide vesper service and the Maryland/ Pennsylvania Horse Show Circuit-sanctioned horse event, which is sponsored and hosted by the local 4-H Horse and Pony Club. The remainder of the week continues with several mainstays, such as livestock shows, exhibitions and Children's Day, and boasts additions, including the newly created Senior Citizens Day and Thursday's special feature - four-wheeler drag races.
In it solely for the love of raising animals, Cove Mountain 4-H Club members, siblings Sheree, Michael and Justin Fogal of Needmore, are among the annual fair participants who are prepared to exhibit their market animals even in the absence of premiums and fair ribbons.
Having logged six years with the 4-H, Michael and Justin are both slated to show a market steer and market swine next month. Older sister and 2009 Southern Fulton graduate Sheree has been involved in 4-H for two years and will also be showing a market steer and swine.
"Some people like to show what they can do and, of course, enjoy what they do. They will not be bothered if there aren't any premiums. There are others who like the little extra cash they would receive," said the Fogal family. "We will continue to show animals. We are not in it for the money. We love animals, and we love what we do."
The children of Travis and Deneen Fogal, the trio typically begin preparing for the next fair by scouting for steers two weeks after the last fair concludes. After purchasing their steers in early October, their daily work routine includes feeding, watering and cleaning animals' pens as well as exercising their steers and pigs.
Even though hopes remain high that state funding will make its way to Fulton County and other county fairs, the unknown has certainly made some residents question the future of the fair and the popularity of its exhibits. Harrisonville area residents Blair and Missy Souders, parents of Taylor, Delanie and Colt Souders, noted the lack of premiums will not deter their children ranging in age from four to 13 from participating in the fair.
"We will probably mainly show market animals because you know that you will be getting some money out of them," said Missy. "My kids love to get trophies and ribbons, so actually the premium is not a really big deal to them. I know some kids are in it for the money. Taylor and Delanie care more about their animals and the ribbons and trophies than they do the money."
"In fact, last year Colt came in second with his goat "Snap," and he was really excited about winning a ribbon. As soon as they handed him a ribbon he came running over to show me and left his sister Taylor standing there with his goat."
As members of the Chuck Wagon Gang 4-H Club, Taylor and Delanie are on the schedule to show pigs and lambs. Delanie, 11, will also be entering the showman's ring with a dairy steer this year. The children also routinely enter vegetables and fruit as well as some crafts and clothing they have made throughout the year.
"The public likes to look and see who wins ribbons. If there are no ribbons, I really don't think there will be any shows," speculated the children's parents. "That is also the way with the exhibits. If no ribbons are handed out, why bother to collect the goods and take them to the fair. I think it will cause people to lose interest in going to the fair as people enjoy walking through the barns where the food, fruits, vegetables, quilts and clothing are shown. Seeing who grew what and how big it is draws a lot of interest."