County ponders fairgrounds user fee
Douglas County's Land and Development Committee is beginning to explore options to pay for improvements at the Head of the Lakes fairgrounds without placing the burden on taxpayers.
The plan would charge every adult who uses the grounds $1, expanding on the county's surcharge on paid admission to spectator events at the fairgrounds.
Douglas County's surcharge currently applies to adult admissions at the speedway, fair, rodeo or other ticketed events at the fairgrounds. The goal is to include more activities to raise sufficient revenue to make repairs at the fairgrounds.
"If we proceed on this, I think we should have a couple more meetings, maybe even public meetings with the user groups," said Keith Allen, chairman of the Land and Development Committee. "I just hate to impose something that people are going to be surprised about without their input."
Supervisor Scott Luostari questioned if the fee would be imposed on every adult who accessed the fairgrounds for any type of event.
Allen said the goal would be to include anyone who attends any type of event, such as horse shows, beef association events and quilters.
County Clerk Sue Sandvick questioned whether it would include all events irrespective if an admission charge applied, or only paid events where an admission is charged.
Allen said after talking to Joe Stariha of the fairgrounds management group, the group would agree to amend its lease because they can see the benefit in improving the grounds.
"Hopefully everyone else could see the benefit to the extra dollar to improve the property because any time anyone walks by out there, they can see it needs a lot of money for improvement out there," Allen said.
Supervisor Alan Jaques said when a tattoo event was held at the fairgrounds, people were coming in and paying for tattoos, but not one dollar spent went to improving the grounds. He said the county somehow has to get money to make the improvements.
County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert questioned how groups like 4-H would collect the revenue when adults attend their events.
Sharon Krause, who coordinates 4-H for the University of Wisconsin-Extension in Douglas County, suggested a user fee.
"My main thing is that the money actually goes to the fairgrounds ... not necessarily the racetrack," Krause said. "I think the fairgrounds needs more work than the racetrack at this point."
Krause suggested charging curlers, but Allen said that's been tried before and the curlers have a 99-year lease on the building that is "iron clad" on what the county can charge them.
"We've asked them before — $1 for all their events. They laughed at us," Allen said. "We could approach them and say, 'This is what we're asking everyone else to do — could you do this?'"
Allen said he would proceed with that approach if other user groups agreed to collect the fee.
"They're more likely to pitch in a buck if they know what the money's going for," Jaques said.
Krause recommended keeping the fee for adults, and not the youth such as 4-H.
The Land and Development Committee on Tuesday recommended referring further discussion of the issue at its March 27 meeting. The committee meets at 3 p.m. in Room 207C of the Douglas County Courthouse.