“Without formal determination of our tax deductibility status, we were unsure if the funds should be deposited into an account under Park County Fair Association. The donations have been secured in a fire proof safe pending a formal determination,” said the letter from the fair board, signed by Chairman Abby Shuler.
The letter addressed nine questions raised by county commissioners, who said in an April 18 letter that they were “seriously concerned with the lack of progress on the Fair Board’s fundraising efforts.”
The commission committed to spend taxpayer dollars to meet requirements of a state grant if fundraising efforts fail to secure $500,000 in matching funds by May 31, wrote Commission Chairman Bucky Hall.
“However, the point is that the fair board made a commitment to raise the funds which decreases the taxpayers’ burden,” Hall wrote.
In response, the fair board referred to its fundraising plan originally presented to commissioners in January, which included a campaign kick-off date of Feb. 24. Last week’s updated plan noted that “timeline expectations will shift due to delays resulting from tax deductibility status question.”
The commission’s letter asked why the fair board isn’t directing donations to Park County (which has tax-exempt status already), as the county attorney’s office directed.
Fair Director Jennifer Lohrenz said communication with the Park County Attorney’s Office earlier this year left the tax question unanswered for the Park County Fair.
“They can’t determine whether we’re tax deductible or not,” she said at a Wednesday fair board meeting.
Board members questioned how tax-deductible contributions would be handled if they were made payable to Park County instead of directly to the fair.
“How can you go out and ask for Park County Fair building dollars and ask them to write a check to the Park County clerk?” asked Linda Nielsen, vice chairman of the fair board.
Lohrenz asked who would be responsible for record-keeping and receipts for donations to the county that are designated for fair building donations. She said the fair board doesn’t have the authority to open or sign for bank accounts in the name of Park County for people to make deposits through local banks.
“The details of how this is supposed to be done — that back room stuff that really does matter — none of that has been defined,” Lohrenz said.
So far, the fair board has not spent any of the $15,000 allocated by the county commission for fundraising. Fair board members indicated that they were unsure how that money was going to be distributed.
“Was it not the intent of the Board of County Commissioners to fund this committed amount directly to the Fair Board?” Shuler wrote, asking for additional direction on how fundraising expenses should be presented for payment.
As board members discussed their response to the letter last week, Nielsen said they “don’t want to play the blame game.”
“But we also don’t want to be apologetic, because we have done nothing wrong here,” Nielsen said. “We have done only what we have been directed to do.”
Two fundraising events are planned for this summer, along with fair week happenings, Shuler wrote. The fair board is planning a May 31 fundraiser featuring country musician Charley Jenkins.
The fundraising plan includes offering building blocks (bricks), corporate giving and individual donations.
The board also plans to work with various community groups in Park County to raise funds for the new building.
Waiting for building plans to be finalized delayed fundraising efforts, as board members said they had hoped to present plans at last year’s county fair.
“We can’t ask the city councils to help or anything until we have a plan on what building we’re going to build,” said Mike Demoney, fair board treasurer.
Fair leaders said it will take time to raise $500,000. Board members noted that they’re also devoting time to planning this year’s fair.
“This is a long-term thing,” said Steve Martin, a fair board member. “We’re willing to keep working on it and raise the money and put it back into the coffer as we have it.”
Board members also questioned the timeline for raising a half-million dollars. Though the fair board and staff always understood they had a role in fundraising for the building, Lohrenz said it wasn’t until September that a dollar amount was defined. That was when commissioners, in a meeting with the fair board, decided that it was more realistic to set the fundraising goal at $500,000 instead of $1 million; Nielsen said at the time that while the board would like to say it could raise $1 million, $500,000 would be easier to accomplish.
“I think at some point … the county commissioners need to be aware that even as a fundraising effort, for $500,000 to be processed in Park County, it is not going to be six months,” Nielsen said Wednesday. “You’re looking at a five-year plan.”
“On top of that, since when does a county volunteer board of any kind raise funds for a public building?” Shuler asked.
Other boards have a separate foundation board for fundraising, Demoney said.
The fair board has discussed establishing a nonprofit Park County Fair Foundation to assist with fundraising. A foundation is a must, Martin said, but it’s a process that will take time to be done properly.
“We believe strongly in the need to form a foundation to benefit and support the fair; however, we feel it must be properly established,” Shuler wrote in the letter to the commission. “The process will take time.”
Nielsen said fair board members need to meet with commissioners to discuss fundraising details.
“We’re trying to provide answers, but in the same respect, we have questions, too,” Nielsen said.
In their letter, commissioners asked fair board members to provide fundraising updates at the commission’s meetings on May 6, 13 and 20.