Kern County Fair 2019
Concession booths at the Kern County Fair

By Valley Ag Voice Staff

Recently, attention on the Kern County Fair has increased with the revelation that the fair may soon run out of operating cash. Last month the Valley Ag Voice covered the precarious fiscal position the fair has found itself in during the current pandemic. That article highlighted the $270,000 monthly operating costs of the fair of that roughly $240,000 was monthly payroll.

Many in the community, our publication included, were left wondering why the fair had not reduced staff to bring their monthly operating costs down allowing them to better weather the storm of the pandemic, especially when the state is telling the fair they aren’t allowed to host events to bring in revenue.

Documents released by the Kern County Fair CEO, Mike Olcott, shed some revealing light onto the increased restrictions of the state that make the fiscal situation of the fair even more difficult. During the June 15th meeting Lucas Espericueta referenced a narrative financial report. That narrative report prepared by the fair’s board accountant, Dianne Baumann, revealed that the state is preventing the fair from staff reductions.

In the section where she covered the budget control report, Baumann reported: “Management is cutting expenses anywhere they can be reduced.” When she highlighted the salaries and wages of the permanent state employees hired by the fair, Baumann revealed that a, “Cal HR directive that all employees must remain on full pay and benefit status has made reducing these expenses difficult.” 

The June 15th meeting revealed that the loan recently received by the fair was the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The forgivable loan was nearly $600,000, and it will surely assist the fair in addressing some of the state mandated payroll costs. Yet, these funds will run out soon.

With the revelation of these requirements by the state, it is nearly impossible for an organization with state employees to maintain staffing when the state has also cut off all revenue-earning potential. While a determination about holding a fair in 2020 is not officially decided, you can’t blame the fair board for clinging to hope that there is still a possibility. During the July meeting they will formerly decide to hold the fair or not, but in the meantime the revenue choked fair is struggling to survive.

The State of California needs to provide greater flexibility to Fairs so they can keep fiscally solvent during the pandemic. Otherwise our communities will be deprived of the Fair not just this year but in future years because of the fiscal damage caused by the shutdown and payroll mandates.