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September 27th, 2023

Visitors to the 2022 Community Health Fair inquire about some of the tests conducted at the event. L&T file photo/Robert Pierce


Leader & Times


Officials at the Seward County Fairgrounds are still awaiting a decision concerning the possible increase of fees for use of buildings there.

After an initial round of talks in early August, Activity Center Director Linda Johnson met with commissioners to continue discussions of the issue at the board’s Sept. 5 meeting.

This time, talks began about community events which have fees waived for them. Johnson said there are seven such events, including Cinco de Mayo, the Southwest Kansas Regional Job Fair, the That Liberal Band Fish Fry, the Community Health Fair, International Pancake Day, the Cultural Festival and the USD 480 Science Fair.

“The other weekends are what we have for the rent of the facilities,” she said. 

Johnson estimated deposits for events in 2022 at the fairgrounds totaled $176,248, with $83,833 refunded for booking, cleaning and damage deposits.

“The total income of the fairgrounds complex would be $93,000, and the total bills we paid were $116,000, so that put is in the red $23,000,” she said.

Johnson said she has looked everywhere to find the best possible way to decrease the fairgrounds’ debt.

“It’s been so long since we’ve had an increase in pricing,” she said. “I feel you can’t land them at one time on a price. What I tried to do is try to raise it smoothly, but it’s entirely up to you guys how you want to do it.”

Johnson then reviewed the current prices and proposed new prices for using some of the fairground facilities.

“Our old booking deposit for the Activity Center is $500,” she said. “The new booking fee would be $500. We call it a fee, not a deposit. The old building rental is $750, and the new building rental is $1,200. The old kitchen rental is $100. The new one would be $150. The old stage rental is $288. The stage rental would be $360. The old total rental is $1,138. The new total rental would be $1,710. This would give an increase of $547 per event.”

Johnson said fairgrounds officials estimated there are about 43 weekends with paid events per year at the facilities, and with the increases at the Activity Center, this would yield about $24,000 a year.

“Then you have your Ag Building, and the old booking deposit is $100 right now,” she said. “The new booking fee would be $250. Your old building rental is $400. Your new building rental would be $750. Your old kitchen rental is $100 right now. Your new kitchen rental would be $150. The old stage rental is $100, and this new stage rental is $150. The old total rental is $600. The new rental would be $1,050. This would give you an increase of $425 per event giving us an increase of $18,000 per year.”

Johnson then reviewed prices for public events such as dances, weddings and quinceaneras, as well as for use of other facilities.

“For your public events, it is $4,000 right now (for the Activity Center), and we would increase it to $5,000,” she said. “The old Ag Building price is $750, and the new pricing is $1,200. On the backside is the rodeo arena. The old rental is $250 per day. The new rental would be $750 per day. The old non-profit is $125 per day. The new non-profit would be $250 per day. The booking stays the same at $100. The old concession price is $100. The new price of the concession is $150. Grandstand pricing is on hold due to the moving of the rodeo arena. When you do rent it right now, it’s $1,500.”

Johnson said Commissioner C.J. Wettstein had asked for payroll for staff at the fairgrounds.

“That’s $194,000 for the year,” she said. “When they built this building, it was not made to make money, but you at least need to pay your bills in your electricity and stuff.”

Next, Johnson tackled costs for electricity at the fairgrounds.

“Our building runs $3,000 to $4,000 a month, and we use it so much more than what this building is being used for,” she said. “When you go to the RV parking spot there, the monthly rate is $700. When you go over to the Grandstands, which we use once a year, it’s $400 a month because everything is commercial. It’s not residential. When you go over to the new Beef Barn, it’s hardly used, and it’s $150. The 4-H building is $40 some dollars. The show arena is $100 and something. The Ag Building needs $1,000 and something. You have your rodeo, and your crow’s nest runs $400. The rodeo ground runs $400. It’s a whole amount of money that’s put together because it’s all commercial.”

Johnson said she did not realize the demand having lights on had for the fairgrounds.

“We had a bill of $5,000 for a month,” she said. “I didn’t figure that in the budget. I called them up to visit with them, and they said, no that’s $5,000 every month for a year.”

Johnson said she talked with Administrator April Warden, who had visited with commissioners, and former Commission Chair Ada Linenbroker talked to officials with Southern Pioneer Electric about the bill.

“We end up having to just pay the $5,000,” Johnson said. “When we have an event, we get one of the guys to go, and every 20 minutes, we have to turn a light on to keep from getting that demand. We had to have some lights replaced at the rodeo, and I did have an electrician tell me the other day if we go to the bigger lights, not LED lights, you wouldn’t call for that demand. Over to the racetrack, you can do that. C.J. talked about solar and how that might be something to look into.”

Johnson was asked about the cost for events at which alcohol is served and those which it is not. She estimated only about four events per year do not serve alcohol.

“That depends on what you guys want to do,” she said. “I don’t feel like you’ll rent the building that much without it, but that’s completely up to you guys.”

Johnson was also questioned about the cost of labor for having fairgrounds workers set up for an event.

“When we do it depends on what kind of a setup it is,” she said. “You have a major setup, that’ll probably cost more for labor.”

“I thought it was $1,500 to set it up, and I don’t remember what the tear down was, but that was based on $15 (per hour),” Commissioner Steve Helm said. “The $194,000, is that the total payroll? That includes all the benefits.”

Warden said the payroll estimate does not include benefits, as Payroll and Benefits Technician Juan Meza likely did not include benefits in that number.

“I bet that’s just her total payroll,” Warden said.

Helm said with benefits, the payroll would likely double from the original $194,000, while Warden said there was probably only another 50 percent on that figure.

Some commissioners suggested adding the cost of labor for fairgrounds workers setting up an event into fees, and Johnson said she and others had thought of this idea.

“You could offer that in the price of the setup, and if they don’t want to pay that price, they can do the setup,” she said.

With many events being scheduled for Saturdays, Johnson said organizers are given the Friday prior to set up, but with decorators wanting to come in on the Thursday prior, costs at the Activity Center alone could be as much as $250.

“I believe it’s $150 at the Ag Building,” she said. “If I was going to do that, I would raise it to $300 at the Event Center and $200 at the Ag Building, but that’s up to you guys what you want to raise it to.”

Warden said not being charged for setup and tear down time is a common idea.

“It’s usually included in your rental fee, and you get the day before to set up,” she said. “You don’t necessarily get the full day the day after, but you do get some time to tear down.”

Warden asked if those fees were being included in the proposed rental fees.

“I do know we have events sometimes where you ask the people to go ahead and tear down because you have an event the following day that’s wanting to come in to set up, and they’ve been willing to do that,” she said.

Johnson said rental contracts give event planners Friday to set up, Saturday for the event and a half day on Sunday to clean up.

“There’s times we have to ask them if they can get out by 10 a.m. because we have somebody else coming in and follow them,” she said.

Commission Vice Chair Tammy Sutherland-Abbott suggested incorporating man hours into the rental fee recover labor costs. 

“Instead of making it another line item, I would just add what you thinks appropriate at each facility,” she said. “If you have two employees at a full day rate, just add that on to your rental amount.”

Wettstein asked how many people normally help with set up for events. Johnson said smaller events take about two to three hours for about three people.

“When we do a major one, it takes everyone,” she said. “Sometimes, it’ll take a full day. It just depends on what we’re having to do, and it might go into the next day of what we’ve got to do, so four to eight hours for a large event.”

Wettstein estimated workers would be paid $12 an hour in benefits, with payroll and benefits coming in between $30 and $32 an hour to set up an event.

Sutherland-Abbott said she saw only the incorporation of labor and costs for the use of meeting rooms in fairgrounds buildings missing from the proposal.

“I think everything else is pretty straightforward,” she said. “It looks good.”

Sutherland-Abbott emphasized the goal was not for the fairgrounds to make money, but merely to recoup operating costs.

“If our guys are having to set up or tear down for these people, we shouldn’t be absorbing the cost,” she said. “The people who are utilizing the facility should.”

Commission Chairman Scott Carr asked for labor numbers to be brought back for a future meeting to get a proposal approved and set up. Warden said if that is done, a proposal can be put on an agenda for commissioners to take action on.

Helm said he would like to see a complete list for all fees for fairgrounds usage.

“This one addresses the main hall. There’s four different main halls of the Activity Center, and then the meeting rooms, the Ag Building, the east end, west end,” he said.

Johnson explained both ends of the Ag Building are rented together.

“You can’t rent the west end because when you do, if there’s any kind of damages, one person tries to blame the other person,” she said. “When you have quinces or weddings, the band has to have a place to go during their breaks, so they use the west end all the time. What I’ve done is I have combined in that end to it together just because you can’t separate it.”

Commissioners later inquired about the cost of event where alcohol is served and one without alcohol.

“Right now, without alcohol, I think the rent is $200, and I would raise it to $400, which has been the price with alcohol,” Johnson said. “That’s how I would do it, but it’s totally up to you guys.”

Helm said a price list needs to be available and asked Johnson to bring that back for commissioners to look at.

“She’s going to bring back every aspect of that building – what the setup fee is going to be, what the breakdown fee is with alcohol, with no alcohol – every aspect of whatever we went to the public, the Activity Center and the Ag Building, broke down clearly so we can see what all that is,” Commissioner Presephoni Fuller said.

Johnson said damage deposits are given back to those who rent facilities unless something is damaged or not cleaned, but booking costs are now categorized as fees, which are kept by the county. She added those who rent the fairgrounds are supposed to have insurance as well.

“Are they purchasing insurance from you or they’re bringing their own insurance?” Fuller said. “Who are they purchasing insurance for? They purchase their insurance anywhere they want.”

“We have a certificate they have to by,” Johnson said.

Warden said the prices given were the costs if an event is paid for seven days prior to it.

“If you haven’t paid that within seven days, your price goes up to this amount,” she said.

“That goes back to if an event’s canceled,” Helm said. “Can’t we put in that contract that it’s either non-refundable within so many days or refund a portion of it?”

“That’s what it says in the contract,” Johnson said. “You have 30 days to cancel your event, and if you don’t cancel that event before that 30 days, you lose that booking fee. That would have to be up to you guys to determine if you wanted to do a percentage of that rental, if they didn’t keep their booking for that.”

Sutherland-Abbott suggested extending the period to have an event paid for in advance.

“Why don’t you go out instead of seven days, take it out two weeks to a month they have to pay it?” she said. “Have it prepaid for. Collect your money even further out. That way, if they’re not paying it, they have forfeited that date.”

“When they book the event, they come in and pay their booking fee, and we work all that up, do a contract. Then they’ll come in and sign it,” Johnson said.

Carr suggested increasing the booking fee and the total rental fee less.

“Either way, we’re keeping the rental when they rent it,” Sutherland-Abbott said. “It doesn’t matter which it’s under.”

As the discussion came to a close, Warden asked commissioners to clarify what they wanted from Johnson for the next discussion.

“To recap, we make sure we’re ready for the next meeting,” she said. “We’re going to make the rental and the booking fee half and half. The booking fee is non-refundable, and you want us to push the date out to where they have to pay in full for their event to at least a month.”