County fairs fighting for funding

Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 6:14 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - As many in northeast Arkansas are getting ready for the start of the NEA District Fair, it has been a tough couple of weeks for organizers at county fairs as they are searching for funding.

Putting on a county fair is tough. There is so much behind-the-scenes work that goes into it, and while safety and fun are the main priorities, Haley Beth Skelton said not too long ago, funds were cut at the state level.

“Premium funding was cut in order to fund a livestock show, so they basically just redistributed that,” said Skelton, who is the livestock director at the NEA District Fair.

After many discussions with the state, Skelton said this funding would have left county fairs in shambles. Thankfully, she said a change was made.

"Once we explained to them what the situation was and how important it was to have that money at the fair, they were able to take that into account and fix everything," Skelton said.

The chart below shows the breakdown of funding and what the fairs need financially. The premium funds are back, but construction funds are still on hold.

This chart shows how much each county needs to keep putting on the fair every year.
This chart shows how much each county needs to keep putting on the fair every year.(KAIT)

“We are still actually missing our construction money, which is what the state allots us every two years to keep our fairgrounds up and make new buildings, make it nicer, and we have not received that as of today,” Skelton said.

Construction funds for each county range from $7,000 to $10,000. Some places, like Independence County that were hit hard by storms are left trying to fix everything themselves.

While everyone thinks of rides and funnel cakes with county fairs, there is much more, and agriculture plays a big part.

"There are 269,000 jobs in the agriculture field in the state of Arkansas, and we set president by teaching kids how to further education to set them up to have those jobs," Skelton said.

Skelton said they hope to get the construction money next year and that if they don’t, she is concerned about the future.