District Fair Gets Reprieve

Thursday, March 28, 2013
Photo/Richard Irby

Richard Irby

Editor

Feeling it is being given a second chance to keep the North Central Arkansas District Fair in Melbourne, the Izard County Fair Board wants to pitch in and help improve the finances of the district fair, which has lost money the past three years.

The board has voted to get community volunteers to work entry gates at the fair this August, which will save the district fair $500 spent last year to hire gate operators. In addition, Sheriff Tate Lawrence has offered to use state prison inmates assigned to perform duties at the Izard County Detention Center to provide janitorial service during the fair, something that cost the district fair $1,400 last year.

"Some of our legislators, including Tommy Wren and James Ratliff (Representatives for Izard and Lawrence and Randolph Counties), have said they are willing to give some of their GIF (General Improvement Fund) money to help the district fair," Izard County Fair Board President Kenya Wyatt said. "We are willing to work for the betterment of the fair."

In February, the district fair board, which is comprised of two members from each of the seven counties who participate in the fair, voted 10 to 4 to relocate the fair from Izard County to Cleburne County. Only Izard and Sharp County members opposed the move. Treasurer Carolyn Lewis, of Fulton County, cited three money-losing years in a row, including a loss of about $5,000 last year, as the reason for the vote to relocate. According to Lewis, the majority of the board is convinced that, to survive, the fair needs to move to a county with a larger population and larger business community support the fair, and Cleburne County and Heber Springs governments are offering incentives to move to their community.

The move hit a roadblock in early March, however, when members of the House Committee on Agriculture balked on endorsing Cleburne County Representative John Peyton's bill authorizing the re-location. After hearing testimony from supporters and opponents of the move, some committee members, who had never visited either fairgrounds, questioned how they could make an informed decision.

That prompted Rep. Peyton to pull his bill from consideration to allow the committee to study the issue.

"(Rep.) Tommy Wren says the legislature will now have time for a study period and the fair will be here for the next two years, at least," Wyatt said. That is because next year's legislative session will be for budget matters only, so lawmakers will not be able to consider a proposal to move the fair until the 2015 session.

"I'm real happy it's on hold," said Nancy Orr, a Sharp County member of the district fair board. "Izard County is stepping up and doing their part. This gives us some time to work to make the fair financially successful." Orr and other supporters of the Izard County location point out the fair is already a success with exhibitors, receiving more than 5,000 entries last year, the most of any district fair.

According to Wyatt, she and other members of the Izard County Fair Board plan to attend the April 11 meeting of the district fair board. "We want to sit down and talk to them and see if we can work things out. We can't control Mother Nature. It rained about every day last year and that hurt attendance, but we think we can do better this year if everyone works together."

While the 2013 District Fair is scheduled for Sept. 23 to 28, its Spring Junior Livestock Show will take place on March 28 and 29 at the Izard County Fairgrounds. The free event is open to the public.

"FFA and 4-H members will show horses on Thursday. I think we will have at least 44 horses. On Friday, they will be showing cattle, sheep and goats," Orr said.

According to Wyatt, the fair board has dropped off sawdust for the barn area, has barns ready for use, and will have the grounds mowed and cleaned and ready to host the spring livestock competition.

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