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Citizens sound off, complain about fair

By Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald

A dozen speakers strolled to the microphone last week - during a public meeting called to address everything related to the King County Fairgrounds and the annual King County Fair - and there was one common theme: no one offered words of praise.

Prior to taking public testimony, Shelley Marelli, acting director of the county's Parks and Recreation Division, told the audience the county now has "a new way of doing business." For decades, King County added to its inventory of park properties and expanded services, but those days are long gone, she said.

The department has been ordered to make multi-million dollar budget cuts over the past two years, Marelli said, resulting in a change of focus. "We need to be more entrepreneurial," she said, "and the transition will take several years."

The county has ordered its parks and recreation officials to come up with ways to generate more money, while also cutting costs. The county's plan to close the Enumclaw swimming pool - which was only saved when citizens agreed to increase their property tax, thus allowing the city to assume ownership - was part of the county's design.

"We've looked at everything we can to reduce costs," Marelli said.

Stepping forward first to address county leadership and members of the Fair Board was Enumclaw Mayor John Wise. He emphasized that the fair is "a historical part of this community" and stressed how important all events are to the general well-being of the community. He said he's heard specific comments about the ever-increasing cost of attending the fair and, in general, heard that residents want the fair "like it was in the old days."

Jeff Beckwith, a member of the Enumclaw City Council, reminded county employees of the concept of "community benefit." While sensitive to the fact the fairgrounds needs to be self-sustaining, he said government "needs to sometimes step back from the business aspect."

Several people spoke on behalf of farm families, where kids participate in 4-H activities. "Money is an issue for everybody," said Paddy Lewis-Irwin, explaining that a parent and child spend $85 just for admission during a five-day fair.

Another 4-H parent, Craig Miller, agreed. "It just gets tougher and tougher every year," he said, agreeing that livestock portions of the fair could be shortened to make things easier, and less expensive, for everyone.

Chuck Kessner suggested there be more entertainment, and that it not be "big name" acts. "People are entertained by things that are simple," he said, adding the fair needs performers that "you don't need a ticket to see."

Sharon Tyler noted the demise of Enumclaw's role in the fair, specifically the absence of such staples from the past as Emry's Barbecue, "Monica's hamburgers" and the food booths sponsored by local service groups. "You don't see any of the local flavor anymore," she complained.

The Enumclaw session was the fifth of six public meetings taking place around King County, during which the public is invited to share its feelings. Those comments will help shape future plans for both the fair and the fairgrounds, audience members were told

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com

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