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Illinois state fairs lose money, but raise pride in ag industry

 

By STEVE BINDER

Illinois Correspondent

 

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — As the 2014 Illinois State Fair wound down Sunday and its sister event, the Du Quoin State Fair in southern Illinois, begins this Friday, visitors usually can count on some tried-and-true traditions.

Foremost, the fairs showcase the best of the state’s agriculture industry. "It’s where you go each year to see the best of the best in what our state offers when it comes to agriculture, especially to see the future of agriculture with our children and young adults," said Robert Flider, the state’s agriculture director.

Second, one can always count on a couple days’ worth of spicy politics, as both parties host days at the fairs that set the stage for the next big election – this year pitting Gov. Pat Quinn against GOP nominee Bruce Rauner.

Third, as much as a guarantee as death and taxes, the fairs lose money for the state and most of its taxpayers. Just ask state Auditor William G. Holland.

In the most recent audit for the Springfield fair released earlier this summer, covering the years 2012 and 2013, the Illinois State Fair posted total expenditures of about $9.98 million against total revenue of approximately $6.47 million – a one-year deficit of $3.51 million. The year before, the fair ran a deficit of about $3.31 million, according to the audit from Holland’s office.

The most recent audit from the Du Quoin State Fair, covering the past two years, shows a total deficit of $1.8 million.

And while the audits do not indicate there were significant management blunders that led to the deficits, a separate report this summer by State Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza cited inappropriate conduct by fair managers Amy Bliefnick and John Rednour Jr. for receiving beer tickets from venders.

Rednour resigned late last year. Meza’s report noted Rednour sought out rolls of beer tickets valued at up to $8,000 last year, tickets he said he used to promote the event. Bliefnick was suspended for two days without pay and fined $1,000, and admitted to accepting about $100 worth of tickets annually from 2005 through last year.

"As is noted in the report, as state fair manager I accepted the tickets for distribution only to promote the fair," Bliefnick said earlier this summer. "This practice will no longer continue at the fair. I learned a valuable lesson and look forward to a great state fair this year."

Despite rain during parts of the first three days of this year’s Illinois State Fair, her prediction appears to have come true. Preliminary attendance is pegged at nearly 1 million visitors, slightly more than the past two years.

The Du Quoin State Fair runs from Aug. 22-Sept. 1. Tickets for main stage acts such as Foreigner, Kenny Rogers and K.C. and the Sunshine Band can be obtained at the fairgrounds in Du Quoin. For more information, call 618-542-1535 or go to www.duquoinstatefair.net

While both state fairs spend more money than they take in directly to cover those expenses, supporters not only point to the significance to the agriculture industry and its young participants, but also to the spinoff dollars generated for the regions that host the two fairs.

Such indirect spending aren’t accounted for in Holland’s audit reports.

Vendors, for instance, at the Illinois State Fair last year finished the 11-day run with slightly more than $4 million, money they use to cover expenses and spend in the region.

"We have the best fair in America, and we’re very proud of that," said Quinn while opening this year’s Springfield fair. "We’re very proud of all of those in agriculture in our state. Last year, we were No. 1 in the country in growing soybeans and No. 2 in growing corn, so we know how to make things happen when it comes to agriculture."

8/20/2014