BY KEVIN BONESKE
The city of Rhinelander wants Oneida County to make a long-term commitment to keep holding the annual county fair at Pioneer Park before the city would commit to making infrastructure improvements there.
That was the message city officials presented at Monday’s county Conservation and UW-Extension Education Committee meeting.
City Administrator Kristina Aschenbrenner told committee members that if the county didn’t wish to continue holding the fair at Pioneer Park, which has hosted the fair in recent years after it was moved from the Hodag Country Festival grounds outside of the city limits, city officials would want to know that, so that they could plan accordingly.
“The city just needs to know that, because then we can stop all of our discussions and our planning and looking to see what we can do for a fair that the investment is not there for the city,” she said.
Aschenbrenner asked whether the county would be able to enter into a long-term agreement for fair operations with the city and whether the county is looking into a different location for the fair.
“Is this (Pioneer Park) the best place for the fair, and if not, what are some other options?” she asked. “We don’t want to be throwing money at and investing in something that doesn’t have a long-term goal and nobody wants it to be there in five or 10 years.”
Aschenbrenner said she saw a benefit in holding the fair in Rhinelander and wanted to work with the county on it into the future.
This year’s county fair is scheduled to take place Aug. 4-7 at Pioneer Park.
Fair coordinator Nancy Gehrig said about $4,000 comes out of the fair budget each year for additional electrical distribution to hold the fair at Pioneer Park. She noted that expense wouldn’t be incurred in the fair budget in the event the city expanded the park’s electrical infrastructure.
City parks, buildings and grounds director Gunder Paulsen said expanding the electrical infrastructure at Pioneer Park wouldn’t be necessary if the county fair would no longer be held there.
“I totally see it for the fair,” Paulsen said. “I don’t know why the city would want to put in money for something that they don’t know is going to be there.”
Committee chairman Bob Mott said holding the fair in Rhinelander is of value to both the city and the county.
“It’s more than just Rhinelander,” Mott said. “It’s supposed to be a county fair.”
Another committee member, Jim Winkler, who was elected to the county board this spring and is also a retired county 4-H youth development agent, said the county fair provides economic support for the Rhinelander community.
“You’ve got a lot of stuff going on in Rhinelander,” Winkler said. “The county fair is one of those activities. Let’s build on that.”
Committee member Robb Jensen noted the county has been funding the fair with the idea it would become self-sufficient.
“From a budgeting perspective, the goal is to get the fair self-sufficient,” Jensen said. “And that really falls upon the responsibility of the fair committee in terms of working it out…. It’s pretty hard for me to say we’ll make a five-year commitment to the fair if, two years from now, it’s self-sufficient.”
Committee members agreed to continue the discussion about the future of the county fair at next month’s meeting.