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City Council and Fair Board reach agreement on fairgrounds' buildings

Thursday, August 25, 2011

As the Fulton County Fair opened, Aug. 22, Director Carolyn Lewis had praise for city workers and a Calico Rock prison work crew.

"We've probably got the best looking fairgrounds around. They really did a good job preparing it. There's not a weed around anywhere," said Lewis.

Under a pending agreement between the Salem City Council and the Fair Association, the fairgrounds will be even more inviting in future years.

"I think it's a good idea," said City Councilman Bill Newton.

"It's a win-win for the city and the association," Councilman Ted York chimed in.

At it's Aug. 18 meeting, the council discussed a Fair Association offer to improve the city-owned theater and club house buildings at the fairgrounds, in exchange for a long term lease.

The association, which owns the Hickinbotham-Miller exhibit building, says it is rented by groups and families five or six times a week, and often has to turn events away.

Modernizing and improving the other two buildings would create new options for more small and large events to be held year round at the fairgrounds.

Lewis told the council she has already found a grant that, if approved, could help renovate the theater building.

"I did find a grant, a $150,000 grant, for a community center," said Lewis. "It's through the Department of Rural Services, where we get all of our grants (for fairgrounds projects)."

According to Lewis, she will be willing to make a grant application by the Nov. 19 deadline but, she will apply for the grant on behalf of the city of Salem, since it owns the building.

With council members expressing support for the agreement, city attorney Dewayne Plumlee suggested that he work with the fair association to write a long term lease agreement.

Lewis indicated the association would need a lease of at least 25 years. Under an agreement, the association would assume maintainence, upkeep and utility expenses of the buildings, as well as seek funds to improve them.

The council voted unanimously to authorize a lease proposal to be drafted for council review.

The fair association wants to install air conditioning in the theater building, using used units which have been donated by the Fulton County Hospital. It also wants to insulate the building, install interior walls and improve restroom facilities, to make the building more inviting and suitable for event rentals.

The association believes the clubhouse would be perfect for smaller meetings. Lewis said the Fulton County Master Gardeners Club has expressed an interest in holding its meetings there.

In other business, the council went into executive session to discuss filling a vacancy on the police department.

Back in public session, councilman Newton made a motion to hire Terry Walker as a fulltime police officer, begining Sept. 1.

The motion passed unanimously.

Walker is a former Fulton County Sheriff's Deputy who has been been working as a reserve city police officer.

"He is fully certified with a lot of credentials," Police Chief Al Roork told The News.

Mayor Gary Clayton told members new signs identifying city hall and the fire department were expected to be installed on Saturday, Aug. 20.

In his financial report, Clayton said, over the first seven months of the year, city sales tax collections are up 3.8 percent, over the same period last year.

"That I think is a good sign," the Mayor said. "I follow these sales tax trends in a lot of the towns around us and some of them are not doing so well but, for some reason, our is up this year."

The Mayor also reported that all departments are on budget and, if sales tax hold up for the rest of the year, "We'll close the year out in pretty good shape."

The next city council meeting will take place on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m. at city hall. The public is invited to attend.

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