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Budget committee discusses sale of fairgrounds

Essex County Board of Supervisors

Essex County Board of Supervisors Photo by Keith Lobdell.

— While plans for the 165th annual Essex County Fair are well into the works, the fate of future fairs may be up to the Essex County budget committee.

Westport Supervisor Daniel Connell reported to members of the fair board last week that the budget committee had decided to recommend that the county sell the fairgrounds, with the option of a $1 sale to the town of Westport, where the grounds are located, or Agricultural Society not being an option.

On March 11, Connell said he was told otherwise during a county fairgrounds sub-committee meeting.

"At the budget meeting, it seemed clear to me that we were not going to own the fairgrounds as of January 2014," Connell said. "Now, it seems that may not be the case."

Budget committee chairman David Blades said that the fairgrounds was a topic of conversation at the last meeting.

"That may be a possible option, but I do not know if it is going to be a viable option," Blades said. "We are going to look at every available possibility to save the county taxpayers and that is what we are doing right now is just looking. Nothing is set in stone. It is all up in the air right now."

Blades said that another factor in any sale of the fairgrounds is any restrictions that may be part of the deeds to the property.

"Dan Manning is going to be looking at the deeds," he said.

Connell said that the fairgrounds consisted of two properties that included the grounds and the Cornell Cooperative Extension building.

"The two deeds are kind of intertwined," Connell said. "The county has always maintained ownership of the grounds, but the lease between the county and the Agricultural Society has gone back and forth. I have been part of this for 40 years and have gone through two lease agreements between the two sides."

Connell said that the agreements have varied from the Agricultural Society leasing the grounds for an entire year to the current lease, which runs only for the week of the fair.

However, Connell said that society gives a lot more to the county when it comes to the grounds than just a rent check.

"The society has put thousands of dollars into the infrastructure of those grounds," he said. "But all of that work and money put into improving the fairgrounds is something that does not show up as a revenue in the county budget."

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