Douglas County commissioners are taking a businesslike approach to a request for more than $3 million in renovations at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.
Although commissioners said at last week’s meeting that they were enthusiastic about the proposal, they warned that it would be difficult to find funding for the project in the coming year’s budget.
That’s a realistic appraisal.
The proposal for the fairgrounds included razing two buildings and replacing them with an open pavilion, park area and a new meeting hall. The total cost of the project was estimated at $3.3 million to $3.6 million. Commissioner Nancy Thellman said those who spoke in favor of the project “were very persuasive,” and Commissioner Jim Flory correctly described the improvements as “an investment in the community.” However, after Commissioner Mike Gaughan raised questions about ongoing costs to operate and maintain the proposed new facilities, commissioners decided they needed more information to determine whether this was an investment the county could afford to make at this time.
The Douglas County Fairgrounds is an active property all year round and provides venues for many local and regional events — auto swap meets, horse shows, cat shows, antique sales and more — that bring people and dollars to Lawrence. It is an important community asset that warrants the county’s enthusiastic support and financial investment.
However, as all local units of government should be doing now, the county needs to look at its overall needs and consider what could be a drastic shift in state tax revenues. If the state’s new income tax structure fails to deliver the kind of revenue its supporters predict, funding for many government functions may have to come from other sources. The scheduled reduction in the state sales tax a year from now may not happen; local property taxes may have to pick up a bigger portion of funding for schools and other local government responsibilities.
Fairground improvements are a good investment, but this may not be the year to take them on. It only makes sense for the city, county and school board to take a measured approach to any new commitments of tax money, at least for the coming year.