Fairgrounds project moving too fast
To the editor:
The Hancock County Tourism Commission board showed some common sense during their recent meeting.
They discussed the notion of increasing the innkeeper’s tax by an additional 1 percent under the stipulation that the increase would be directed toward an initiative currently being dubbed as the fairgrounds/M-PLEX.
The tourism board tabled this matter, suggesting it was premature, and the timing was wrong. Proponents of the tax increase, in attendance at the meeting, were asked to come back with a business plan showing evidence of a benefit to tourism, details, (i.e. something more concrete). I agree.
As a former 4-H member, supporter and yearly visitor to the Hancock County 4-H fair, I see the need for a serious conversation regarding improvements to the fairground environment.
However, I have concerns regarding the proposed expansion and relocation of the fairgrounds to include an exposition center, grand gazebo for weddings, outdoor amphitheater, and possible restaurant and winery on the country farm property off of U.S. 40, between county roads 400 and 500E.
I understand the proponents of the fairgrounds/M-PLEX have formed a private corporation named the Hancock County Exposition Complex Corporation (HCECC).
This corporation has a formal board. One county commissioner and one councilman serve on this board, while three other councilmen serve on working committees.
One might ask if this is a potential conflict of interest for elected officials to sit on the board of directors and committees of a private corporation when it may be likely they will be asked as council members and commissioners to initiate or approve bonds, or increase innkeeper’s or food and beverage taxes which may benefit this private corporation.
These elected officials have a fiduciary responsibility to the public. How will they use their influence? Will they be voting and acting in the best interest of the county taxpayers, or will they be voting to raise taxes to provide money in support of private business interest?
Perhaps the HCECC can find a private donor to fund a feasibility study to assess the potential for success of this proposed project before prematurely asking the tourism commission to support an innkeeper’s tax increase and getting one of our state representatives to agree to submitting a bill to increase the county’s food and beverage tax during the current General Assembly session.