DEL MAR — In a proposal introduced as “food for thought,” Del Mar Fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell recently asked his board of directors to consider adopting a counterpart in the northeast corner of the state currently facing possible closure.
The 34th District Agricultural Association, which governs the Modoc District Fair in Cedarville, is “going on reserves,” Fennell said at the Sept. 11 meeting. “They’re running on fumes (and) they’re very key to the community.”
Modoc County has a population of about 9,700, fewer than Solana Beach, the second smallest city in San Diego County.
Slightly more than 500 people live in Cedarville, which is also home to the area hospital, elementary and high schools and clinic. The economy is primarily agriculture that includes sheep, cattle, commercial alfalfa and hay.
The fair has served Modoc County and the surrounding areas since 1920. It began receiving state money through horse racing revenues in 1935, but that funding source was eliminated by Sacramento in July of this year.
Only seven of the fairgrounds’ 68 acres are owned by the state. The rest of the site belongs to Modoc County, which receives $1.25 annually from the 34th DAA according to a lease that expires in 2015.
In addition to barns, horse stalls, concession stands and an administration building, the facility includes a baseball field, tennis court, horseshoe pit area and dirt motorsports race track.
During the offseason the facilities, like Del Mar’s, are rented to nonprofit organizations, businesses and locals for events such as fundraisers, weddings, family reunions, blood drives and school activities.
During disasters the site serves as a crisis center for humans and animals and is a cooling center during extreme heat conditions. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management use the fairgrounds for training as well as fire camp during the fire season.
“The 34th District Agricultural Association is currently the evacuation site for any major disaster that occurs in Modoc County as it has the largest holding capacity in the whole county,” Dannette DePaul, the district’s chief executive officer, wrote in a letter to the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Modoc’s staff includes one part-time manager, a full-time maintenance position, two part-time assistants from June through August and about 12 people to work the four-day fair, held in late August. Three livestock coordinators and a cleaning person are hired beginning the second week of August.
The annual budget for the 34th DAA is about $355,000. Sponsors donate an additional $25,000 each year. For the past two years the district has generated between $1,000 and $5,000 through fundraisers such as recycling events, benefit dinners and auctions.
More than 2,000 people have volunteered to help with livestock shows, exhibits, security, upkeep “and whatever it takes to keep the fairgrounds attractive and operable,” DePaul wrote.
The 34th DAA is currently running on reserve funds that will be depleted by spring 2013, and the layoff procedure for the two remaining employees has been implemented, she states in her letter.
Her board met with local officials in July to discuss the county taking over fair operations but Modoc has a $15 million debt and is “in no financial condition to take on another department,” DePaul states.
The board also considered nonprofit governance but that would not generate sufficient operating funds, she wrote.
At Western Fairs Association and California Fairs Alliance meetings, larger fairs and those operating with profits discussed adopting or becoming sister fairs with smaller venues on a short-term basis to devise alternate funding solutions.
“The Modoc District Fair, 34th DAA, would like to entertain this idea with the San Diego County Fair,” DePaul wrote.
Fennell and others associated with the 22nd DAA attended the Modoc fair in August. They provided sponsorship for a musical and helped sell clothing, hats and cups as a fundraiser.
Fennell asked the 22nd DAA board to consider taking the 34th DAA “under our wing” by sharing personnel and equipment resources for 12 to 18 months “until they transition to a more self-sufficient” and entrepreneurial fairgrounds.
“I think they could become 75 (percent) to 80 percent self-sufficient but it won’t happen overnight,” Fennell said.
Adam Day, 22nd DAA president, said the board is open to helping Modoc once accurate financial information is received from both sides.
“We want to go into this with eyes wide open,” Day said.
The board will discuss the proposal during an upcoming meeting.