June 20, 2012With its fair just a few weeks away, the Crawford County 4-H Council made its annual request for $5,000 of riverboat gaming money from the Crawford County Council last Tuesday night. Although approved, with concerns about the county making the yearly mortgage payments on the 4-H Community Park, it wasn't the slam dunk that it has been in the past.
Monica Stephenson, vice president of the 4-H Council, noted the $5,000 would be used to help pay the increased insurance premium, "and we're struggling to meet that."
"We need the county council's help to meet that this year," she said.
In response to Councilman Steve Bartels' question about the 4-H's revenue stream, Stephenson said, besides the fair, the organization relies on rental fees. However, with it costing just less than $100 a day to keep the park open, the 4-H has just a little more than $1,200 in its checking account, she said.
Compounding the financial difficulties is the fair once again was not able to get a carnival at this year's fair, Stephenson said.
"The problem is most carnivals are bigger than our venue and the small carnivals are dying out." she said, adding the 4-H does have a tentative agreement with an operator for two years from now.
Bartels said the county should look into having some kind of ownership in the park if the county is going to continue making the annual $32,168 payment on the USDA Rural Development loan the 4-H took out for the facility.
District 1 Commissioner Daniel Crecelius, who was in attendance, said an agreement to do just that has been proposed by the commissioners.
He said it was believed that an agreement already existed between the county and the 4-H that called for the group to have exclusive use of the park during the two weeks of the fair but then lease it to the county for the other 50 weeks of the year, but it was recently learned that it was never made official.
"That agreement never got signed," he said.
The commissioners, Crecelius said, have drafted a proposed contract that would allow the 4-H to continue to use the park in pretty much the same fashion it has, including renting its facilities and collecting the fees. However, he said, in case of a rental dispute, the commissioners, not the 4-H, would be the arbiter.
"The final decision, if there is a problem, will be the commissioners'," he said.
The proposed agreement also calls for Emergency Management Agency Director Larry Allen to have office space at the park, Crecelius said.
The 4-H Park is large enough give the county's EMA the space it needs to already have its equipment set up and ready in case of an emergency, he said, adding another advantage is its central location in the county and proximity to Crawford County Junior-Senior High School.
Stephenson said the 4-H appreciates the county making the USDA Rural Development loan payments, but the 4-H volunteers have put "our blood, sweat and tears" into the park and cannot let it turn into just office space.
The county council's attorney, Marcus Burgher IV, said his research indicates that the council never tied its willingness to make the USDA loan payment to any lease agreement. Instead, the 4-H Council had a five-year tax levy to construct the main building at the park, he said. Once that levy expired, he said, the only option, short of constructing another building with a new construction levy, was to impose a lower-rate levy for maintenance of the building.
"At that time, the council made the decision that not only were they not going to do a new tax levy for new construction but they were not going to do another tax levy and increase taxes just for the purposes of the maintenance," Burgher said.
Instead, he said, the council informally — a vote was never taken — agreed, on an annual basis, to consider using the county's discretionary riverboat gaming revenue to make the USDA Rural Development loan payment.
"I think there was a misconception by some people that that agreement was signed, even maybe people on the council, that they thought that at some point that agreement with the commissioners and the 4-H Council was signed, and that's why they were really approving this money," he said. "But the fact is, there's never been anything."
Burgher said that, with the county now facing budgetary problems, there's a re-examination of those dollars and what the county is getting in return for making the loan payment.
Bartels said he and others "have been privy to people coming in and saying there's things that can be done to increase" the 4-H's revenue at the park.
"My thought is I'd like to see an agreement with the commissioners first and then find out what's going to happen with this building," he said.
Burgher said another option is for the commissioners to include the 4-H as part of their budget in the General Fund. The 4-H would receive tax revenue, but those monies then would become a lien against the 4-H Park, he explained. However, doing so would count against the maximum levy, taking revenue away from other offices.
Councilman Joey Robinson, noting that 4-H Council needs insurance to have its fair, made a motion to approve the $5,000 request, subject to the 4-H turning in the required documents. After being seconded by Sharon Wilson, the motion passed 4-2, with Bartels and William Breeding against. (Jim Taylor was absent.)
"I'm in support of the 4-H, but we're talking about county funds," Bartels said following the vote.