County fairgrounds planning shouldn’t happen behind closed doors

To the editor:

So the Hancock County Council, with a 6-0 vote, approved a hotel tax increase of 1 percent to help generate funding for a proposed fairgrounds and exposition center. There has been no formal vote by the commissioners approving expenditures for the X-plex or fairgrounds.

The Hancock County Exposition Complex Corporation is a nonprofit domestic corporation and, as such, exempt from Indiana’s open meeting and access to public records laws. In other words, they are not subject to public scrutiny, but they have been given the go-ahead to use tax dollars to help generate funding to get this project off the ground.

They have already been given $45,000 by the tourism commission, and what do we have for that well spent money? A concept on paper, devoid of any specifics.

No mentions of cost or revenue generated included in this report. The local hotel owners opposed this increase and argued funding should come from elsewhere until the county has a definite plan in place. That fell on deaf ears.

The Hancock County Exposition Complex Corporation has no funds of its own or capacity to obtain a loan. It is expecting the county to provide all funding.

To quote Kent Fisk (who sits on the county council and chairs this nonprofit organization — no conflict of interest there), “Costs do go up. We aren’t at the point where we can decide what the costs are going to be and what is going to be built first. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will have to be spent in infrastructure and engineering and architectural costs to get to that point.”

Are you serious? We will have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars before we can see if this project will fly? Spend your own dollars, not mine.

Commissioner Tom Stevens, who just happens to be on the board of directors of the Hancock County Exposition Complex Corporation, believes all the commissioners are on board. To quote Mr. Stevens, “It’s one of the most popular projects I’ve ever worked on in my career.”

When the Hancock County Exposition Complex Corporation holds its public hearing, it will only be about the concept. The Hancock County Exposition Complex Corporation has gone to extreme measures to avoid any public discussion on expected project costs. Why? That ought to be obvious — it’s expensive.

I cannot believe our local officials can give our money without any regard as to the final cost and feasibility of this project. Looks to me you would require at least a projected estimated cost.

I am not against this project. Just be honest. What is it going to cost me? That, Mr. Stevens, is the crux of the problem, and not everyone is OK with what is happening behind closed doors.

Martha Vail