County fair kicks off despite cutbacks
by Jon Mendelson
Sep 14, 2012 | 2300 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
State cuts have slashed the budget for this year’s San Joaquin County Fair, scheduled to open Thursday, Sept. 20.

According to interim CEO Janet Covello, the fair lost about 12 percent from its $2.5 million 2011 budget when the state, led by Gov. Jerry Brown, eliminated funding for county fairs throughout California.

“We’ve lost all of our funding through the state, so overall (there is) about $300,000 we’ve had to make up just in this calendar year,” Covello said Tuesday, Sept. 11.

That’s meant slashing the number of full-time staffers who manage the county fairgrounds from seven to three, leaving a skeleton crew to deal with the weekly flea markets, ground rentals and other events, including the annual county fair.

“It’s just been tough,” she said. “We’ve had to cut in every place we can.”

Still, Covello expects this year’s eight-day fair will be “great” for management and visitors alike.

One reason, she said, is the extended schedule — this year’s engagement is eight days, compared to the five days the fair ran in June 2011. Another, she said, is the horse racing, which is able to accompany every day of the festival because of the shift from an early summer to early fall timetable.

“Our horse racing dates got moved to September, and we were able to secure eight days instead of five,” she said. “It is a tradition, seeing the live horses on the track — it’s fun, it’s exciting. Every 30 minutes, there’s a race.”

The new schedule, however, hasn’t been without flaw. Covello said it took a lot of work coordinating with local FFA and 4H clubs that show and auction livestock, one of the fair’s traditional draws.

“We had to make a lot of changes because of our date move with the livestock,” Covello said. “But I think, altogether, we’ve made a great effort to bring everybody together and make everything work.”

Tracy High School FFA moderator Nikki Maddux said moving the county fair to the start of the school year is a distraction for some students, but only a few students dropped out because of the schedule shift.

“I’ve found that it’s hard to keep the kids motivated, because they’re starting school and trying to stay focused on school and they have the animals,” Maddux said. “And they miss school, that’s a big issue.”

According to the county fair website, livestock will be shown Sept. 20 to 23, and Sept. 27 to 30, the final day of the fair. Maddux said student showers typically miss school on the day they show, as well as the day before.

Maddux said 26 Tracy High FAA members will show animals.

Over at West High School, Maddux said even more students are ready to participate.

West FFA moderator Marlene Hepner couldn’t be reached for comment. A member of the Tracy High FFA who is also a member of a local 4H group also could not be reached for comment.

In addition to the livestock shows and horse racing, Covello said the fair will feature a traditional midway with games and rides, including a zip line — a fair first.

“And, of course, we’ll have all the regular fair food,” Covello added.

The fairgrounds have also been spruced up extensively, according to Covello, including several murals depicting historic activities in the county, sponsored by area businesses and nonprofits.

She said that the fair should continue to be a showcase for San Joaquin County.

“It’s just a great place for family entertainment that’s affordable. You can bring your whole family out,” she said. “Our gate is free, we don’t charge for admission — we just charge for parking.”

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