A proposal to sell the fairgrounds to the Benton-Franklin Fair Association is worth a closer look.
The operation is a losing proposition for the county, and a change of hands could end the drain on taxpayers.
Considering the county's plans for across-board-budget cuts next year, any potential savings need to be on the table.
In 2008, the operating budget for the fairgrounds totaled $477,000. Much of the annual expenses are recouped through rents and other fees, but the losses are nonetheless substantial -- an estimated $70,000 to $80,000 a year.
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Given the potential benefits, Benton County Commissioner Leo Bowman's opposition to the sale is premature.
No doubt, he has legitimate concerns about the potential deal.
So do we.
Would the Tri-City Horse Racing Association and other longtime users be protected in the deal? Would the annual Benton-Franklin Fair & Rodeo survive if the fair association can't stem the tide of red ink?
Commissioners shouldn't sign any deal that doesn't ensure the property continues to operate as a public asset.
But such concerns can be addressed. The support of Commissioners Max Benitz Jr. and Jim Beaver to explore the idea is enough to prompt county staff to draft a proposal.
All three commissioners need to keep an open mind about the potential sale until a detailed report is available.
We're biased. Lori Lancaster, Benton-Franklin Fair Association manager, is a member of the Herald's editorial board.
We think Lancaster and her crew are better suited to turn a profit on the 126-acre fairgrounds and associated facilities than county employees.
The nonprofit is already using the fair's revenues to improve this important community asset. That effort would likely accelerate if the sale is completed.
None of this is a knock on county workers, but managing and marketing facility rentals isn't part of the county's core mission. And the restrictions governments face in trying to run what's essentially a business aren't helping.
A lot of unanswered questions remain, but the potential benefits merit a thorough and serious look.