County voters may be asked next year to establish a new taxing district to provide a stable funding base for the financially struggling Clatsop County Fair.

The Clatsop County commissioners voted Wednesday to begin the process of creating a fair district, which will likely culminate in a countywide vote in May 2006.

Fair board Chairman Mike Scholerman and fairgrounds manager Angela Sidlo told the board that the future of the fair is uncertain without an adequate, reliable source of revenue.

"We would probably shut the facility down and use it just for the fair, and that would be about it," Scholerman said. "Things would definitely look different than they do now."

The commissioners' action Wednesday creates a new fair advisory committee and sets a public hearing for December for establishing the new district and dissolving the current fair board.

The district would have a tax base of $350,000 to cover operating expenses, pay for repairs and improvements and boost the two-person staff. The cost to local taxpayers would be nine cents per $1,000 property value, or $18 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home.

Clatsop County would be the first county in the state to create such a district, a move made possible only recently by the Oregon Legislature.

The proposal grew out of a study by a special blue-ribbon panel set up by the county and the fair board to look at the fairgrounds' long-term prospects.

The fair has struggled for several years to break even, and has relied on subsidies from the county both to cover its annual operating costs, which total almost $250,000, and pay for needed capital improvements. Last year the county provided $118,000, and has budgeted $48,000 for the current fiscal year.

Last November the financial squeeze prompted the fair board to lay off the manager and groundskeeper.

The fair board will present the district proposal to local city councils next month, Scholerman said. Each city must decided whether to opt in to the district before the county commission puts the issue on the ballot.

With the tax base the fairgrounds staff could be increased to four, said Sidlo, who currently operates the facility with a single groundskeeper. Money would also be available for improvements such as roof repairs, the extension of the outdoor arena roof and the purchase of retractable bleachers.

Rental fees could also be lowered for youth groups and other nonprofit organizations in order to make it easier for them to use the fairgrounds, she said.

"My vision is that the fairgrounds can be a community center for all of Clatsop County," Sidlo said. "We want everyone from Cannon Beach to feel as welcome as everyone from Svensen and John Day."

"It's important that the community feels this is their facility," Scholerman said. "We feel strongly that youth should have a facility to use that is safe, where they can put on events at minimal cost."

Scholerman said fairgrounds could also have another important role - the facilities are well located to serve as an emergency shelter for local residents during a natural disaster. The facility is located on high ground, has a large commercial kitchen and other features that allow it to house hundreds of people safely, he said.

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