Private group shouldn’t oversee new county fairgrounds project

With so many elected county and city officials and employees serving on the Hancock County Exposition Complex Corporation (HCECC) Board of Directors and the county providing thousands of dollars of funding to the HCECC, it’s no wonder most people assume it is a county agency.

Make no mistakes; the HCECC is not a county agency. It is a private nonprofit domestic corporation. Further, unless it has received a recent change in its status, donations to the HCECC do not qualify as deductions on your federal and state income tax filings.

As a private corporation, the HCECC is exempt from Indiana’s open meeting and access to public records laws. Their meetings and activities are private and are not subject to public scrutiny. The HCECC is also not subject to oversight by the county or Indiana State Board of Accounts. It has no funds or assets. I seriously doubt if its officers are even bonded.

To date, the HCECC has relied on funds provided by the Hancock County Tourism Commission. It is obvious that in going forward, the HCECC will continue to rely on county funding (hence the recent increase in the county’s innkeeper’s tax).

There is absolutely no reason for the existence of the HCECC. They bring nothing to the table. Their involvement in the development of the county farm site only complicates matters and raises a host of ethical and conflict of interest questions.

There are no compelling reasons why the county can’t form and appoint its own board to oversee the construction, management and operations of a new fairgrounds, X-plex and other developments at the county farm site.

From the beginning, the HCECC has stifled public involvement in and scrutiny of its activities. It is obvious that it is committed to accomplishing outcomes, which have already been predetermined by a select group of individuals.

The HCECC contends it is too early to talk about costs. They say that they will have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more before they are in a position to talk about costs. Though I can’t provide exact figures at this point, either, I can give you some pretty good ballpark figures.

If everything being proposed is built at the same time, the minimum cost will be in the range of $30 million to $40 million. This amount does not include any charges levied by the city of Greenfield or Ninestar Connect for running water, sewer, electric and optic lines to the site or the construction of a required lift station.

It also does not include grounds equipment, vehicles, fencing, traffic control equipment, office and facility furnishings, event items, signage, debt service costs, issuance costs or reserves (interest, principal and operating).

The above amount will also have to be significantly increased if it is decided to design the site so as to allow eventual access to the county property on the south side of U.S. 40.

If the county decides to bond in order to fund this project, it will likely be looking at a 30-year bond. Total cost to taxpayers for this bond likely would be well in excess of twice the face value of the proposed bond. By the time all is said and done, taxpayers would be looking at total costs in the neighborhood of $100 million.

Additionally, taxpayers would also be required to subsidize annual operating costs to the tune of $1.5 million to $2 million a year on a continuing basis.

There are far less costly ways to build new fairgrounds. Unfortunately, these ideas will never see the light of day, because our currently elected county officials and other powers-that-be in the community have already decided that anything less than the whole enchilada is unacceptable.

In closing, I would remind everybody that there has never been any public discussion or vote on using the HCECC or any other private corporation to build and operate a new fairgrounds.

There has not been a single public presentation or hearing on the new fairgrounds or development of the county farm site. There has never been a vote of any kind giving the HCECC the exclusive rights to developing the county farm property.

Nobody else has been invited to submit an alternate proposal.

And there surely hasn’t been a vote by the county to provide the HCECC with funding to cover their expenses in developing their plan.

Yet county officials and the HCECC are proceeding as if there is already an approved agreement in place.

Something is horribly wrong with the above picture.

John Priore is a Greenfield resident who serves on the Blue River Township Board.