Ag Society tackles money challenges

It isn’t going to be business as usual for the Custer County Ag Society. It can’t be. Faced with aging buildings and an increase in expenses, the Custer County Fair Grounds’ Board of Directors are having to take a hard look at ways to increase revenue and decrease expenses.They can’t have a repeat over last year, when they ended their fiscal year $38,775,63 in the red. “Tough times call for tough choices,” said Ag Society President Kevin Cooksley, “and we aren’t exempt from those choices.” The seriousness of the challenge was reflected in a six plus hour meeting, that started on Thursday evening and extended into the next calendar day. Conducted in a 45-50 degree room with an ill-functioning heater. Few removed their coats. “Perception is reality,” said Paul Parliament, present to talk to the board. Many in the business community feel they are already giving as much as they can give. You’ve got to increase income or cut expenses.” That’s a reality the board says they are all too keenly aware. “We are still working through the coming budget. We are still trying to figure out how to make the two (income and expenses) meet,” Cooksley said. “We are looking at everything from personnel to facility operations. As starters, they currently have an open position and that person will not be replaced.” Chris and Becky Pearson were present at the meeting offering to look into insulating and heating the horse arena, in order to draw more shows. “We have talked to folks in the community. If folks don’t come out they aren’t aware of what is in need of repair. I believe the community benefits economically because of the Fair Grounds. In visiting with folks they don’t want to see things lost.” Chris offered to come up with some estimates on what it would take to heat the arena. “We have a better location than most. People can travel from west and east 200 miles and be here. I’m willing to try and put a number together. I have a pretty good general knowledge of what it would take. Even when the heaters were brand new they didn’t keep it warm. There’s no insulation and holes in the roof... “I believe there would be quite a bit of interest if the barn were a little more accommodating. Then you could charge more and I believe people would pay.” The responding comments were that hard figures were needed. They would need to know what the economic impact would be. There has been a steady decline in events, and you ‘can’t just spend money for a study if we aren’t going to do anything with it.’ A committee has been appointed to work with Chris to research the necessary numbers to start the dialogue. Parliament said there are other challenges, that he has been talking to the Nebraska Cutting Horse Group and that the director is working hard to keep the event here, but considerations are being made.The battle the directors are fighting extend beyond the Fair Grounds, they would like to see another restaurant, more hotel rooms and better concessions. “I can’t build another motel, I can’t open another restaurant, but you are going to have to offer concessions if you want to keep them,” Parliament said. “We are big and ugly like an old Chevy,” said one of the board members, “We have to have a better drawing card than stalls and barns.” Some of the challenges rests between the fair and the activities. “What we get from the Board of Supervisors can cover the fair,” said Cooksley, “or it can cover the facility, but not both. People forget we have a 45-acre place with aging buildings to take care of.” Right now the budget is approximately $8,000 in the red for the coming year as it currently sits. The Ag Society will address that shortfall at their March meeting. The public is invited. Also present at Thursday’s meeting were Dave and Joan Birnie. Dave offered to have KCNI/KBBN sponsor the Custer County Fair Parade. This was a $1500 line item in the budget and one Birnie said he thought the radio station could have a good time with. The Ag Society gratefully accepted the radio station’s offer.