Fair Board Calls News Conference

CLEARFIELD – For one week out of the summer, tens of thousands of people converge on Clearfield from near and far. They come for the Clearfield County Fair and stay for the entertainment and all of the sweet and savory food that can only be found there.

The group that runs the event, though, has come under scrutiny in the months following the 2007 fair, and the Clearfield Volunteer Fire Department Fair and Park Board called a news conference for Tuesday to make sure the public understood a few things about the driving park’s ownership and management.

“I just wanted everybody to have the facts,” said Greg Hallstrom, park manager.

Everything from the board’s finances to employee management and running the park have been called on the so-called public carpet, and Hallstrom and Brenda Hunter, park publicity director, explained the history of the park and how the board came to run it.

One thing was off limits during the conference, discussion on the board’s employees.

The fair board took over the management of the park in 1979, taking over $47,500 in bonds and releasing Clearfield Borough from costs related to the driving park as long as the board and the borough were under an agreement.

The contract was extended several times, and in 1988, the fair board lent the borough $150,000 to purchase Expo II (former Shortway building). At the same time, the board also sold the borough several properties for $60,000. Because of this agreement, the borough received a $210,000 mortgage. 

Hallstrom said no money was ever paid on that mortgage, because a management agreement did not call for it to be paid back until that agreement expired or was not renewed or extended. The current agreement between the borough and the board lasts until Dec. 31, 2009.

According to Hallstrom, that agreement also allows for a 6 percent interest rate. The document does not spell out whether that is simple or compound interest, but Hallstrom said simple interest would mean a bill of $436,800 and compound interest would leave the bill at $606,597.

Hallstrom said the board is hoping to renew the contract with the borough; both parties must come up with something each side can agree upon.

Clearfield Borough Council President Jim Leitzinger was also at the press conference, and he said both sides met in September to discuss the contract. No decisions have been made to date.

At council’s meeting on Thursday, it voted to send a letter to the board advising of the borough’s intentions to charge the 5-percent amusement tax on gate admission fees.

Hunter said that the board had been examining the possibility of charging a “pay-one-price” type of admission that would include gate fees and unlimited midway rides. That price, which she said is still to be determined, would not include grandstand shows.

“We just can’t do it with the caliber of entertainment we have here,” she said.

For the 2006 fair, the tax was levied only on grandstand shows, bringing in $20,328.26 for the borough in taxes.

If the tax had been on gate admissions, the borough would have collected about $6,800 when figuring a 5-percent tax on a $3 admission and 45,443 paid fairgoers. The real gate number is in excess of 100,000, but that figure includes admission by media representatives, concessionaires, fair workers and others who frequently go in and out of the park, some 10 times per day or more. 

Hallstrom said volunteers have put in $2,475,839 into the park between Dec. 31, 1979, and Sept. 30, 2005, over and above the money raised by park events.

“That’s something you’re not going to get around,” he said.

Big events seen at the park last year are planned to come back, Hunter said, including Thrills in the Hills in June and Country Jamin’ the Valley in May.

Both of those events lost money in 2006. Thrills in the Hills lost about $25,000, plus or minus about $2,000 to $3,000 and Country Jamin’ the Valley was more than that, according to Hallstrom.

Still, the board is hopeful that ads currently running in search of a new park manager will find the facility functioning at a higher level in the coming years.

Even if a manager signs on, the board is left to wait and see whether the contract will be extended.

“At this stage in the game, we’d just like to know where we’re at,” Hallstrom said.

Leitzinger, while not part of the news conference, said council had no plans to take over running the park at this time.

He said council did hope to use funds generated by the amusement tax to rehabilitate borough parks and playgrounds, including using about $15,000 to resurface tennis courts that are inside the oval at the driving park.

Hallstrom said he would like to see 500 people at the next Clearfield Borough Council meeting to comment on the issue now that the facts are out in the public realm.

Hunter urged residents and tourists to visit not only the fair, but also other events at the park. “If you want your fair, the park has to … generate its own revenue,” she said.

The board said it would hold further news conferences in the future as more information is able to be released to the public.

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