The county will fork out nearly $30,000 to repair “potentially” dangerous electrical problems at the Island County Fairgrounds.
Facilities Director Larry Van Horn asked the Board of Commissioners for the emergency funding at Wednesday’s work session because “violations of this magnitude” needed to be repaired right away.
The property was cited by state inspectors during a routine inspection prior to this year’s county fair, but the proposed repairs did not come to Van Horn until after the annual event was over.
“He found a number of code corrections that are required, but it didn’t prevent the fair from going forward,” Van Horn said.
When asked if holding this year’s county fair was dangerous knowing that problems existed, he said, “Potentially, yes, to be frank about it.”
“That’s the purpose of having the electrical inspection,” he said.
Once the problems were identified, the county had a few weeks to work with inspectors and electricians to develop a plan of action. Van Horn said the problems are both lack of updated electrical wiring and hardware, as well as failure to meet grounding regulations.
Some of this stuff “should have been replaced years and years ago,” Van Horn said.
Van Horn assumed his new role as facilities director in May, after the previous director was out for nearly two years with an injury.
“It’s been a lack of focus that has let things get where they are today,” Van Horn said.
The $29,338 contract has been awarded to Clinton-based electrical contractor Jerry Beck and Company Inc. County commissioners have placed the item on the consent agenda for Monday’s evening meeting.
Van Horn said, if approved Monday, work should begin immediately and will take a few weeks to complete.
“We have to do it,” Commissioner Jill Johnson said.
She added that Van Horn notified commissioners of the extent of the electrical problems a couple of weeks ago, and that the county was cited by the state’s Department of Labor and Industries.
The Fair Association has for years asked the county for assistance with the property and have been consistently ignored, according to Sandey Brandon, director of the Island County Fair Association.
Brandon concedes that part of the problem has been the lack of a facilities director, but that the county didn’t prioritize the problems as well.
“Larry Van Horn is trying to play catch up,” Brandon said. “The problems are nothing new and nothing the county didn’t know about.”
Brandon said the Fair Association is in a sort of catch-22 because some facilities are not at a high enough standard to rent out and get a return on an investment for capital improvements.
“We can’t give them what they want so they’re unhappy,” Brandon said.
While it was unclear who is ultimately responsible for the oversight, Johnson said she thinks due to lack of funding and electrical expertise, the Island County Fair Association, which manages the property, has been doing repairs “piecemeal to keep it going.”
“The county was not engaged in the maintenance of the property so it sat on the side and was neglected,” Johnson said. “Nobody wanted to take ownership of the problem.”
Johnson, who has been hesitant to fund the Fair Association’s requests for additional funding to properly maintain the property, said Wednesday that she has “hit a wall” and will likely push to cut back future funding for the property.
“It highlights how many county resources are going to this facility,” Johnson said. “I know the fair is valuable … but in terms of all the things the county is tasked to do with limited resources, this conversation is getting more serious all the time. This benefits one part of the county.”
Price Johnson, who has been a champion for the fairgrounds located within her district, said the fairgrounds are important not just for the annual county fair, but for the programs and businesses that use the facility year round.
“The property highlights how expensive some basic maintenance can be,” Price Johnson said Friday. “The downside is without adequate revenues this is the kind of thing that happens.”
Vaughan and Price Johnson made the point that because small investments have not been made over the years, the county is now having to make some large, more costly repairs.
“It will only cost more the longer we wait,” Price Johnson said.
The Fair Association told the county earlier this year that they need additional funding to properly maintain the facility.
Commissioners had already approved $30,000 in July for maintenance of the fairgrounds through next year. The fair association also received $30,000 for capital improvements. The county is considering a new management company for the property.