Annual event held at Rhinelander’s Pioneer Park
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Rhinelander’s Parks, Buildings and Grounds Committee went on record at Monday’s meeting in opposition to charging an admission fee at the annual Oneida County Fair, which has been held in recent years at the city’s Pioneer Park.
Committee members spent nearly a half hour discussing the future of the fair with representatives of the event, which will continue to receive $16,000 next year from the county after budget discussions by county supervisors about possibly reducing that amount and having the fair find revenue elsewhere, such as with an admission fee.
Parks committee chairperson Sherrie Belliveau noted the city has sought at least a five-year commitment to keep the fair at its current location where infrastructure improvements could be made for the benefit of the event.
“The improvements that we’re making at the park would benefit the park in the long run, so we weren’t looking for any contribution in that sense,” she said. “What we’re looking for if we’re going to continue with any upgrades, that we have an agreement in place that the fair doesn’t walk away, go somewhere else.”
Though the county presently has a lease agreement with the city to use Pioneer Park for the annual fair through 2019, and could renew the lease period for an additional two 10-year periods under the same terms and conditions, in which the county doesn’t make a rent payment to the city, the county could terminate the agreement without penalty in the event it constructed its own fairgrounds.
Belliveau expressed her concerns about charging an admission fee, which she said would also involve numerous volunteers having to handle money with the potential for theft or loss, along with the difficulty of being able to restrict access to the park.
“That park is a sieve,” Belliveau said of the ease to enter Pioneer Park without having to pay with no fence surrounding the area.
Nancy Gehrig, who had been the fair coordinator since 2013 before stepping down from the position this year, said the idea of charging an admission fee was favored by some County Board supervisors who wanted the fair to become self-sufficient and not be subsidized by the county. She noted charging an admission fee could negatively affect attendance numbers.
“A lot of people in the community have said to me that they love (not having to pay admission), because they bring their whole family,” Gehrig said. “It doesn’t cost anything (to enter). It cost them enough to go on the rides, but for the cost of the fee to get in, they wouldn’t come, because they say, ‘Well, then we’d go somewhere else where there’s a better carnival.’”
Gehrig said it wouldn’t be practical logistically to charge admission with the fair held at Pioneer Park.
Bill Freudenberg, a county supervisor who is also the vice president of the fair board, said the fair is going through “some major reorganization” with seven board members deciding to step down since the departure of Gehrig and board president Tom Peterson.
Freudenberg said the possibility of charging an admission fee “was just discussion at the table to look to see what kind of alternative ways that we could try to come up with some additional funding, other than a coordinator trying to go out and trying to get donations all the time from a community that gets exhausted from trying to give all the time.”
Implementing an admission fee for the 2018 fair, Freudenberg said, would “probably not” happen.
When Belliveau asked for input from other committee members about what they thought about charging an admission fee with the fair held at Pioneer Park, they agreed to oppose the idea.
For instance, committee member Tom Gleason said a lot of people wouldn’t go to the fair even if a fee of only $1 was charged.
“Your vendors are going to lose, your carnival people are going to lose, (and) your donations are probably going to lose,” Gleason said. “So, for the $1 you would charge at the gate, you’re going to weigh that against how much you’re going to lose.”