Merced County Spring Fair suffers $150k loss in California budget cuts

Merced County Spring Fair Manager Ron Brandt has been anticipating the worst for months, so he was prepared last week when Gov. Jerry Brown cut funding for fairs in the state budget.

Despite losing $150,000 to $180,000 for the fair in Los Banos, Brandt is vowing that what fairgoers experienced at this year's festivities will be maintained.

"I do not think there will be a noticeable difference at the fair next year from what people saw at this year's fair," he said. "If we cut the reason people come to the fair, they won't come and the fair won't make any money."

In signing the budget, Brown ended an annual $32 million allocation to fairs, so the funds can help reduce California's deficit.

In April, Brandt and the fair's board of directors started the Merced County Spring Fair Heritage Foundation. The organization, which is in the process of becoming a nonprofit, is comprised of business leaders and other residents of Los Banos interested in raising money for the fair. Brandt said so far the Heritage Foundation's fund-raising efforts have resulted in $60,000 that will largely be used to help provide prize money for youth exhibits and projects at next year's fair.

In February, the Western Fairs Association listed 29 of its 79 members as being at risk of closing if Brown's proposal passed. The Merced County Spring Fair was No. 12 on the list.

Stephen Chambers, WFA executive director, said after the state legislature's summer recess, his group plans to lobby lawmakers to produce a bill that will restore funding. Chambers believes the recess might inadvertently help with negotiations.

"These state legislators are going to be spending time in their districts during fair season, where they will hopefully see the benefits of fairs," he said.

Chambers said the WFA needs to get a bill passed by Jan. 1 to make a difference for next year.

Brandt said at this point the Merced County Spring Fair cannot rely on the chance that it might still get money from the state.

Chambers said in 2009, fairs generated $127 million in revenue. He said the hard part has been trying to convince the state it's costing itself money.

"They think they can keep the $32 million and still have the $127 million. It does not work that way," Chambers said.