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Officers question Canadian County Fairgrounds plans

Concerns about how Canadian County will pay for a new fairgrounds complex, as well as the new employees who will be needed to operate the facility, were part of a lively discussion during last week’s budget meeting.

County Court Clerk Marie Hirst, who is heavily involved in the El Reno Wranglers’ Rodeo Club, has previously voiced concerns about the future of the El Reno rodeo once the new complex is completed.

Hirst is concerned that her organization will not be able to afford use of the facility for its annual rodeo, which is held in conjunction with the county’s free fair.

They currently use the rodeo area adjacent to the fairgrounds facilities. However, once a new complex is built, she said there are concerns that the new facility’s rent will take any profits the organization makes.

David Anderson, the county commissioner for District 2, said that would not be the case.

“A county fair is a county event. I can assure you that any activity that is associated with the county fair is going to happen at the county fairgrounds. If we had a county fairgrounds and a place to ride a horse now, you wouldn’t be going to the city today,” he said.

Hirst agreed, pointing out that the Wranglers’ rodeo uses facilities that are rented from El Reno.

Anderson said the rodeo will be something that will continue to provide equestrian activities for the youth and adults of Canadian County.

He also pointed out that Canadian County is one of the few counties in the state that doesn’t have its own equestrian facility.

Under the proposed budget plan, $2.5 million of use tax will be set aside for fairgrounds work. That money will be added to about $6 million the county plans to borrow for the first phase of the project.

Anderson also pointed out that $500,000 has been set aside for other capital improvement projects and $400,000 has been set aside for a digitalization project for the county assessor’s office.

The use tax generated about $1.6 million last year.

“This money that we have on hand,” Anderson said.

The county is pledging about 50 percent of future use tax proceeds to cover loan payments.

“I looked at what our collections were, and I put that entire amount into the fairgrounds fund. We, as a board, have decided to move forward with the fairgrounds improvement project and have identified our use tax as a revenue stream,” Anderson said.

“Why did I put it all the money into the fairgrounds? It is where I put it. It is not future spending and it is not saying that we couldn’t change it. It is where I have put it today,” he said.

Anderson also pointed out that the two funds won’t cover the full cost of the fairgrounds project, but it is a starting point.

Hurst did question whether any thought had been put into future needs of staffing and how that might affect the general fund budget.

Anderson said the current facilities are costing the county money, and while additional staffing would be needed in the future, it is hoped the fairgrounds can cover its own expenses.

He also pointed out that the current facilities are decades old and the new facilities, while larger, also will be more efficient.

“I hope we don’t see a large increase in overhead,” Anderson said.

The county commissioner said about $100,000 has been spent on the project so far.

The county fair board recently hired a Norman architecture firm, Populous, to put together conceptual designs of how the fairgrounds might look. Those plans are to be presented to the Jensen Family of El Reno.

The family owns more than 300 acres of land that are both inside and just outside of the El Reno city limits. The property has been selected as the prime location for the fairgrounds.

The land is at the intersection of Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 81.

The county also has a backup location located near Manning Road and State Highway 66 that is owned by the county’s children justice center.

Officials have estimated the fairgrounds complex will require about 160 acres of land.

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