The Henry County Fair is recovering from funding cuts two years ago, according to Fair Board President Rick Dobbels.
In the fiscal year that ended in 2010, the Henry County Fair received $34,979 from the state of Illinois’ rehabilitation fund.
That amount was slashed to $14,417 the following year.
Henry County’s payout from the premium fund has fallen from $47,107 in 2007 to $24,908 in 2011.
The biggest impact has been on premiums paid to exhibitors, Dobbels said.
Exhibitors keep the fair going, he said.
“Everyone thinks the fair goes one week,” the fair board president said. “But it survives 52 weeks. Exhibits still support the fair.”
Market livestock continues strong, Dobbels said, but fewer breeding livestock appears at the fair.
For the 2012 fair, he expects the open market barrow show to have 30 to 40 more head.
“We will have a good beef show, and we will have a good show with market lambs this year, too,” Dobbels said.
Premiums help exhibitors pay their expenses, such as the cost of hauling livestock to the fair, he said.
But people who want to participate in or watch the demolition derby, the livestock shows and the grandstand entertainment will come, the fair board president said.
“If you’re going, you’re going,” Dobbels said. “Expenses won’t hold you back. The economy is not good, but it is not stopping people.”
After the state cut funding, the fair board waited one year to start charging for grandstand admission. The change took effect with the 2011 fair.
“We were scared,” Dobbels said. “I personally was scared.”
Rumors were flying that people would stay away because of the grandstand admission charge, but the rumors turned out not to be true, he said.
After all, if not at the fair, where can people go to see demolition derbies and rodeos?
“It was standing room only at the demolition derby,” Dobbels said.
At the same time the fair board began charging for grandstand admission, the board lowered the front-gate admission price, Dobbels said. It had been $6 for 12 years, but the board dropped it to $5.
The Henry County Fair would benefit in several ways from expansion of gambling in Illinois, he said.
If Gov. Pat Quinn signs the bill, which creates more opportunities to gamble on horse races, the Henry County Fair would benefit in a couple of ways, Dobbels said.
“We’re in a central location,” he said. “Quad City Downs has no barns any more. If they get live racing back at Quad City Downs, we’ll have our barns full five or six months a year. They’ll have slots and off-track betting, too.”
Besides the revenue from horse owners renting space in the barns, the Henry County Fair would receive a windfall from the state.
Page 2 of 2 - “County fairs would get $6 million right away,” Dobbels said.
If he could get one message across to state legislators, he said it would be to think about what kids get out of county fairs.
“I have no kids, but I’ve been here for 14 years, and I keep it going for my three nephews and all the kids,” he said.
“Number one, they have fun the whole week of the fair,” the board president said. “My nephews and all the 4-H’ers gain a lot of responsibility. They have chores to do, they have projects. They have to get the projects ready.”