Organizers of the Madison County Fair say the 120-year-old event will go on as usual this week, despite the ongoing lack of funding from the state of Illinois.
This is the second year for the state's budget impasse, which has held up funds earmarked for county fairs. Organizers from across the state have scrambled to make do, said Wayne Steiner, president of the Madison County Fair Association.
The unexpected loss of state revenue last year forced some fairs to scale back, or even shut down. The St. Clair County Fair in Belleville was canceled in 2015, and it will not be held this year.
“Once the fair goes away, it’s awful hard to get it back,’’ Steiner said.
The Madison County Fair Association has made up its budget shortfall by dipping into reserve funds. The group is also holding more fundraisers, including a barbecue contest and tractor raffle to support the fair. The association also rents out the fairgrounds, located in Highland’s Lindenthal Park.
Steiner said that not all fair associations have reserve funds.
“The budget that was recently passed – that six-month budget – there is a small portion of money in there earmarked for county fairs. We have no idea how much we’re going to get. We have no idea when we’re going to get it,“ he said.
The fair costs about $250,000 to run, Steiner said. The state has historically contributed to upkeep for fairgrounds and for prizes, called premiums, that are awarded to the winners of the various livestock shows. The premiums for just the beef category this year, will be between $12,000 and $15,000.
"We haven’t received any money from the state since March 2015,'' Steiner said. "They did not pay any premium reimbursement last year, and that hurt a lot of the fairs because most fairs run hand-to-mouth. They just basically break even. We’re very fortunate here in Madison County that the people that preceded me built up a savings."
Steiner says fairgoers can expect all of the usual trimmings when the gates open Tuesday: tractor pulls, rodeos, livestock shows and pie contests. The fair is emphasizing education this year, including an exhibit that explains the impact of agriculture on local and state economies.
About 60,000 people usually attend the six-day event.
“Tell me what the weather’s going to be, and then I’ll tell you how many people are going to come,’’ Steiner said.
General admission to the fair is free, but parking is $5. Carnival rides and grandstand events, like the combine demolition derby, also have admission fees.
Steiner says the fair depends heavily on volunteers. About 100 people helped clean and set up the fairgrounds last week.
“It takes a small army to pull off a fair of our size,’’ he said.
For a complete list of events, go to the Madison County Fair website.
Steiner notes that many county fairs in southwestern Illinois have found ways to keep their doors open. The Monroe County Fair, held in Waterloo, is also being held this week.