County officials are mulling higher user fees for the fairgrounds.
Douglas County commissioners moved a step closer Monday to charging rent to all groups that host events at the fairgrounds and in the buildings located there.
``I'm not interested in putting a burden on the people or restrictions on the people who're using the fairgrounds, but I am interested in them helping to pay the way or to pay the utilities out there,'' County Commission Chairman Louie McElhaney said.
Last year the county took in only $2,500 in user fees at the fairgrounds. The cost to county taxpayers on utilities alone at the site was about $47,000.
Commissioners are expected to discuss the county staff's proposal to raise user fees for the fairgrounds next month. If the proposal stayed alive after that, a public hearing would be held in the fall.
Of particular concern to county officials are nonprofit organizations who pay no rent but then sponsor events at which they charge admission and sell booth space to vendors.
Commissioner Jim Chappell said he supported the concept of charging rent when the events held there generate revenue if not profits.
``My law business was a not for profit last year, but I don't think you guys intend for me to use the fairgrounds,'' said Chappell, who is a Lawrence attorney.
For the past 33 years, the Antique Automobile Club of America has held its swap meet at the fairgrounds the first weekend in May. The event has grown to the point that about 1,000 booth spaces are sold for $35 each.
``There's a real good example of a heck of a lot of money changing hands and the county not getting any of it,'' said Bill Bell, the county's director of buildings and grounds.
Although the AACA puts up a damage deposit, it does not pay rent. By comparison, a for-profit group is charged $100 a day.
Bell and County Administrator Craig Weinaug are proposing that the profit/nonprofit distinction be eliminated. Instead, staff recommends charging $100 a day to groups hosting events at which admission will be charged or products sold and $40 a day to all others.
Even with that increase, Douglas County's fees would be below those charged in other counties of similar size and usage.