To the editor:
Well, the county fair is over. This year, one of the items that drew considerable interest was a display tent about a new fairgrounds (which is described by the supporters of this endeavor as the “Hancock County Exposition Complex” or X-Plex).
This was presented by members of the Hancock County Exposition Complex Corp. (HCECC). Previously in the Daily Reporter, county councilman and HCECC board president Kent Fisk said, “The display has been met with positive feedback from fairgoers, … despite it lacking a definite price tag.”
Others said a small vocal minority have voiced their opposition.
Another display was set up by The Constitution Committee, the Tea Party of Hancock County, in an effort to get taxpayer input as to the need and desire for this yet-to-be-priced endeavor.
The Constitution Committee asked specific questions of the fairgoers with a new question each day.
June 19: Do you think it is appropriate for an elected official to vote on spending taxpayer dollars to fund a private nonprofit organization of which he is an officer or member?
Yes — 1 chose this answer
No — 60 chose this answer
June 20: Support or oppose:
New fairgrounds: 36 support, 19 oppose
X-Plex: 17 support, 35 oppose
New fairground and X-Plex: 16 support, 30 oppose
June 21: How much money do Hamilton County Fairgrounds and Hendricks County Fairgrounds generate annually?
a. More than $1 million each — 15 chose this answer
b. Approximately $750,000 each — 30 chose this answer
c. Approximately $380,000 each — 30 chose this answer
d. Approximately $180,000 each — 11 chose this (correct) answer
June 22 – How much in taxpayer subsidies do Hamilton County Fairgrounds and Hendricks County Fairgrounds receive annually?
a. $0 — 14 chose this answer
b. $100,000 — 3 chose this answer
c. $250,000 — 8 chose this answer
d. More than $500,000 — 3 chose this (correct) answer
June 23 – Are you below or above your property tax cap?
a. Below the cap — 4 chose this answer
b. At the cap — 4 chose this answer
c. No idea — 35 chose this answer
d. Renter — 6 chose this answer
June 24: Whose taxes are increased as a result of locally approved, non-referedum bonds?
a. All property owners — 28 chose this answer
b. Property owners at their cap — 1 chose this answer
c. Property owners below their cap — 7 chose this (correct) answer
d. All income-earning individuals — 10 chose this answer
The vast majority of respondents felt the composition of the HCECC board of directors and officers staffed with elected county officials was a conflict of interest. Most survey respondents wanted additional information on construction costs, operational expenses and how this project would be funded.
Several taxpayers voiced strong opposition to the county subsidizing a private organization.
Respondents were informed that annual operating expenses exceeded $1 million at both Hendricks and Hamilton County fairgrounds. That led to further discussions about who pays the shortfall. Several people had no problem with taxpayers picking up the tab, while others were outraged. Conversely, there were several who felt that the county should subsidize the fairgrounds.
Funding for the architectural plans and the business plan will cost approximately $100,000, and that will be paid from taxes collected by the Hancock County Visitors Bureau. Earlier this month, the county council voted to increase the hotel tax against the advisement of several of the hotel managers, in the hopes of putting approximately $75,000 a year toward the X-Plex construction and ongoing yearly operational costs.
The county commissioners have yet to vote to assume responsibility for this project that started out in the private sector only to become more and more a taxpayer burden. Ten years ago, the cost of a similar project was estimated at $18 million. Estimates for the current plan have run as high as $40 million.