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Salem City Council considers giving control of two buildings to Fair Association

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Built to travel over rough terrain and equipped with two 90 gallon water tanks, the Salem Volunteer Fire Department's new Gator four wheeler is ready to go to remote areas, where brush fires are often difficult to reach. Fire Chief Nick Blanton says the $12,000 vehicle will also be used for missing person searches, storm rescues and other emergency tasks. Photo by Richard Irby
The Salem City Council is considering a request to give the Fulton County Fair Association control of two city-- owned buildings at the fairgrounds.

"If we owned the buildings or had long term leases on them, we would seek grants to improve them and offer year--round access to community groups and families seeking places to hold reunions." Fair Association President Carolyn Lewis told the July 28 meeting of the Salem City Council.

Lewis added, two or three large air conditioning units the Fulton County Hospital is donating, will allow the theater building to be air conditioned.

The Fair Association is confident it can obtain grants through the Department of Rural Services to help pay to insulate the building, put up walls and upgrade restrooms.

The association currently leases the theater building from the city and uses it for beauty pageants during the fair.

"The beauty pageants have always been popular but, in recent years, participation has dropped by half," said Lewis. "It is so hot in the building during the fair, that participants and the audience can hardly stand it."

Steps to make the building more comfortable would also allow it to be rented for community events year round.

The Hickinbotham-Miller building, which the Fair Association owns, is in great demand. Lewis told The News it is rented three or four days a week and almost every weekend for meetings, dinners, flea markets, gun shows, reunions and other events.

"We often turn people away because the day they want to use the exhibit building, it is already booked," said Lewis. "Once we improve the theater building, we will be able to offer them another option; another place they can use for their event."

The Fair Association believes the club house, which adjoins the theater building, is ideal for smaller meetings.

Lewis told the council the exhibit building had been used on July 27 for a meeting which was attended by just nine people.

Yet, the whole 7,000 square foot building had to be cooled so those in attendance would be comfortable.

The Fair Association believes it can cut its utility costs by moving smaller meetings to the club house, although it needs upgrading too.

City Public Works Director Bill Worsham expressed support for the proposal, saying the city cannot afford to repair the buildings.

Noting the theater building was built in the 70s, Mayor Gary Clayton added, "It has served us well for a long time, but it is nearing its end and needs some attention."

Clayton suggested that the council take some time to consider the proposal and discuss the issue again at the August meeting.

Lewis said the Fair Association's grant applications would score better if it had ownership of the buildings.

In the least, it needs a long term lease, preferably 99 years, to assure the state that any grant money obtained will go to public facilities that will be used to meet community needs.

Lewis ended her presentation by adding the Fair Association has good community support and she expects local business and individuals will also make contributions to improve the buildings, if they come under association control.

During the meeting, the Mayor informed the council of a pending improvement project at the city airport.

"The Airport Commission has applied for a grant to revamp the fuel system at the airport; to put in a new fuel tank and pump with a credit card console," said Clayton.

The grant, if approved, will pay 90% of the cost. The commission will cover the 10% match.

In other business, Police Chief Al Roork told council members his officers are having a very busy summer.

His report showed 81 complaints filed in July, including 10 domestic disputes, 11 breaking and enterings, three burglaries and 15 thefts.

In one incident on July 12, two men, identified in court documents as Dennis Hutcherson and Jason Rivers, entered a home on Oak Street and beat Timothy Foster with a baseball bat. Foster, who received head injuries, stopped the attack by stabbing the two men with a kitchen knife.

"Crime's way up and I'm not sure why," said Roork. "Maybe summertime has something to do with it."

Fire Chief Nick Blanton said his department made only three runs in July, a brush fire, an EMS call and a vehicle accident.

Firefighters have been busy, however, taking emergency driving classes and hazmat training.

Three new firefighters have joined the department: Josh Smithee, Bernard Bailey and Doug Cunningham, who are all trained and certified firefighers.

At the end of the meeting, a number of council members and city officials went next door to the fire department to check out the new Gator, a four wheeler the department recently received.

"We will get a lot of use out of this vehicle," said Chief Blanton. "It will allow us to reach remote areas for brush fires, missing person searches, rescues, even hazmat calls."

The city is using state "833 funds," money fire departments receive through a tax on fire insurance, to pay for the $12,000 vehicle and a custom made $1,100 trailer.

Because of schedule conflicts, the city council has moved its August meeting to Thursday, August 18.

The 7 p.m. meeting will be at city hall and is open to the public.

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