Panel: Fair should carry Cole County's name

This file photo from July 2011 shows visitors strolling the carnival midway at the Jefferson City Jaycees Cole County Fair.

This file photo from July 2011 shows visitors strolling the carnival midway at the Jefferson City Jaycees Cole County Fair. Photo by News Tribune.

It’s too late to say “no” this year, Cole County commissioners decided Wednesday, but they’re sending a letter to the Jefferson City Jaycees saying that next year, the county government likely won’t provide some of its past services for the annual fair at the end of July.

Unless the Jaycees restore the use of “Cole County” in the fair’s name.

Although many Mid-Missourians think of the annual event as the “Cole County Fair,” the Jaycees — a private organization — has planned and staged the fair for more than six decades. This summer the event is being billed as the Jefferson City Jaycees Fair.

“The deal with ‘Cole County’ coming off the fair has nothing to do with trying to upset the county, at all,” said Joe Heard, this year’s Jaycees president.

“It is more to try and bring recognition to the Jaycees, since our organization is, actually, the one that funds this fair, puts the manpower in it and we run the fair.”

Heard acknowledged Wednesday evening it’s too late to restore the “Cole County” name this year, but, “we, basically, have a new board every year, so that would be something that we would suggest to next year’s board, that maybe we need to go back to doing this.”

The commission’s decision to send a letter came after a discussion started by Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger.

“I have received a number of calls, and an e-mail, inquiring about whether we are using county resources to benefit the Jaycees,” he said, “particularly in light of the fact that they have made a very conscious effort to remove ‘Cole County’ from the name of the fair.”

Public Works Director Larry Benz said his office never had calculated its costs, but have provided some services for many years.

“In the past, it’s been a commission decision that we donate the time,” Benz said. “We’ve helped with grading the track for the truck-and-tractor pulls, and putting it back afterwards.

“We’ve also helped with watering the midway and the 4-H animal barns, in preparation for the livestock shows.”

Benz said the county’s commitment involves at least one employee and a grader, for at least one day.

“When it’s dry, like now, we’d probably have another person out there with a water truck,” he said.

Also when it’s dry, Benz said, a water truck sprays the midway daily, before the fair opens, “so the dust isn’t as heavy for the people attending the event.”

Commissioners Jeff Hoelscher and Kris Scheperle both said they had mixed feelings on the subject and, eventually, backed the letter for next year rather than pulling the county’s help when this year’s fair begins in less than two weeks.

Ellinger repeated he wasn’t trying to prevent emergency services from being at the fair. Sheriff Greg White noted his deputies patrol the fairgrounds and parking lot on a regular basis.

“Our alternative is to set up a substation very close to it, because of the number of calls that we have,” the sheriff explained. “Last year was a light year — and they had in excess of 20,000 people” at the 2012 fair.

And an ambulance crew and fire truck also stay at the fairgrounds, to provide immediate assistance if there’s a problem.

“We appreciate everything the county does,” Heard said. “We don’t really recognize them for anything they do.”

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