$1 million set for capital improvements at nonprofit fairs

By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

OLYMPIA -- Agricultural fairs owned by nonprofit organizations will be able to compete for state dollars under a bill that passed the Legislature and is now on the governor's desk.

House Bill 2356, sponsored by Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, makes available grants from the Washington State Department of Agriculture that previously were limited to county-owned fairgrounds. The health and safety grants can be used for hand-washing stations, roof repair, restroom remodeling or similar capital improvements.

The bill will enable about a dozen additional, mostly small, community fairgrounds to apply, said Heather Hansen, spokeswoman for the Washington State Fairs Association.

"Agricultural fairs annually attract about 8 million people, provide opportunities for youth to participate in educational events and are a fundraising tool for philanthropic organizations," she said.

From 2003 to 2011, $2.2 million was appropriated through biennial capital budgets to the WSDA for fair improvement grants. The 2011-13 capital budget appropriates $1 million from state bonds to the WSDA for grants to support health and safety projects at county fairs.

Under provisions in the bill, the WSDA is to provide the capital funding on a competitive basis, develop and manage contracts with the selected applicants, monitor grantee expenditures and performance, report information and exercise due diligence. Contract provisions must require that capital improvements be held by the grantee for a specified time period and be used for the purpose of the grant.

A related bill, Senate Bill 6598, which failed to clear both Senate and House, would have protected the property tax exemption for nonprofit fair associations when the property is used by non-tax-exempt organizations. The bill placed a limit of 50 days per calendar year of such use.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, was intended to make up for reduced government support by giving fairgrounds more revenue options.

As the special session entered its second week, the impasse over the state budget continued, with Gov. Chris Gregoire urging budget writers in both houses to "negotiate in good faith and then go home."

She said she will not sign any bills unless the budget writers come up with a budget that can be supported by 50 House members, 25 Senate members and herself.

Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, said other issues besides the budget could reappear during the special session. "Essentially, any bill that did not pass during the regular session goes back to square one and can find new life if the majority party resurrects it. That means all the bills that would hurt the state's ag community could potentially be considered again."

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