By MARTY MATTHEWS
We on South Whidbey are faced with a critical decision, to support or not support the Island County Fairgrounds. For too long the county has not had the funds available to adequately maintain the fairgrounds and provide for their restoration. This is not helped by our fair, which just barely supports itself. As a result many of the buildings are in serious disrepair, losing opportunities to use the facilities for added revenue. The county is strained to continue funding the fairgrounds, even at the current level. As things are, there is little chance the funding for the fairgrounds will improve in the future.
The South Whidbey community now has a chance to change this situation. The county has offered to transfer the fairgrounds to the Port of South Whidbey with the understanding that the port will provide a financial foundation for the fairgrounds and use the port’s economic development mandate to bring the fairgrounds closer to supporting itself. The port agreed to this and will honor a county resolution that the voters within the South Whidbey School District must first approve the transfer.
We will soon receive a ballot, due back by Aug. 2, asking if the port should accept this transfer and if we will approve an increase in the port’s levy of 5 cents per $1,000 of property valuation ($15 on a $300,000 home) to help support the fairgrounds. If we do this, it will provide $200,000 a year, half of which will be used to operate and maintain the fairgrounds to keep it from deteriorating further, and half used to provide matching funds for grants to renovate and improve the facilities.
Our decision is therefore between preserving and enhancing this valuable asset or letting it continue to deteriorate until someday it is no longer usable. I therefore ask that you vote “yes” for this measure on the Aug. 2 ballot. The transfer of the fairgrounds to the port provides direct and local oversight and attention to the fairgrounds, and the levy increase provides a financial foundation badly needed to preserve, maintain and enhance it.
Thank you for considering this vote, for it is much more than that. It is a decision to preserve the fairgrounds for our children and grandchildren or to let it eventually die.
Editor’s note: Matthews was hired by the Port of South Whidbey to prepare a business and marketing plan on the fairgrounds. It was completed and released in 2015. He lives in Langley.