The Summit County Fair, facing budget cuts, looks to raise revenue with price increases
Annual tradition scheduled Aug. 7-14, tickets to go on sale May 1
The last time there was a full-fledged Summit County Fair was in 2019, six months before the word “coronavirus” entered the national lexicon. The county subsidized the annual tradition to the tune of nearly $300,000, about 2/3 of the fair’s budget.
Now, county officials are reducing that subsidy and notifying organizers that the fair will have to move toward financial self-sufficiency — and, eventually, profitability — as the county grapples with its own budget woes.
Last year, the fair was all but canceled for both health and budget reasons, but organizers hope this year’s event, scheduled Aug. 7-14 at the County Fairgrounds in Coalville, will have an air of normalcy.
Summit County Events Manager Tyler Orgill told the Fair Board Monday night that the prognosis looked good for the fair in August, though there still might be a mask mandate in place.
But the fair will likely look different, as its rental budget was cut in half, meaning there will likely be fewer tents on site. It might feel different for attendees, as well, with event ticket prices and fees likely to increase to cover the budget cuts.
Tickets for special events are set to go on sale May 1, Orgill said. Entry to the fair remains free.
He said the demolition derby ticket prices — $15, or $13 if near a fenceline — haven’t been changed in 10 years. The derby sells out quickly, organizers said, and the board recommended increasing the price of a ticket to $24, which would bring in more than $22,000.
The board recommended a slight increase to rodeo ticket prices, as well, and a big jump in camping fees, to $150 for the week, up from $25. That would cover the county’s costs, Orgill said, and generate a few thousand dollars.
The board did not recommend adding an entry fee.
Organizers hope these changes, coupled with fee and event ticket price increases and new events, will move the fair toward financial independence and convince the Summit County Council to invest in the next phases of the plan to develop the fairgrounds.
The board’s recommendations are forwarded to County Manager Tom Fisher for approval.
The county spent $600,000 to purchase land to double the size of the fairgrounds in 2016 as the popular attraction was outgrowing its old haunts in Coalville, where it has been hosted since the late 1940s.
The county adopted a master plan for the site that includes $15 million dollars worth of improvements. The first phase cost more than $5 million and was completed in 2018. It included the Ledges Event Center and a new livestock building, as well as demolishing older structures.
Orgill told the board the second phase could begin in the summer of 2022 and that moving the fair toward profitability increased the chances the County Council would fund the project.
That phase was estimated to cost $4.5 million in 2016, a cost that will likely be higher today. It would include demolishing the western ballfield and grandstand, restroom building and warm-up building, according to the master plan.
The county would then add new fields, parking, trails and, possibly, a water play area.
Orgill indicated the goal was to break even this year and grow to generate $200,000 of profit within five years.
One idea was to hold late-night concerts at the beer tent in an attempt to drive up alcohol sales. Other ideas included adding a sheepdog competition, which Orgill said already had an interested sponsor, and boosting T-shirt sales.
The board appeared to enthusiastically support expanding the fair’s offerings, as well as an idea to host “ranch rodeos” in which cowboys from local ranches would compete at the fairgrounds, showcasing the skills they use in their day-to-day work.
While that likely wouldn’t bring in much revenue, Orgill said it would show that the facilities were being used more frequently and would be welcomed by the local community.
According to county budget documents, the 2017 fair cost the county $484,000, with that number coming down slightly in subsequent years to a $427,000 earmark in 2021. Fair revenues, meanwhile, account for $120,000 to $170,000 annually, according to county Finance Director Matt Leavitt.
“It’s going to be tight,” Orgill said of this year’s budget situation.
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Utah’s legislative general session is set to end on Friday, and if history is any indicator, there will be a flurry of floor amendments and last-minute changes for county officials to monitor.