4-H leaders, county commissioners disagree on fairgrounds project control

HANCOCK COUNTY — A county commissioner threatened to abandon the effort to build a new fairgrounds — after years of debate over project details and funding — if 4-H leaders don’t agree to share control over the proposal.

Tempers flared this week during a discussion between the county’s board of commissioners and 4-H leaders, with both sides arguing they should have final say over the direction of the estimated $18 million project, a scaled-down version from the original $40 million proposal.

Representatives from the Hancock County 4-H Agricultural Association said they should have control over the project — deciding what gets built and who builds it, among other project decisions — because the organization is responsible for everyday expenses associated with the fairgrounds. But the group is asking for about $12 million of county tax dollars to fund the new facility, so elected officials — who are accountable to taxpayers — should be part of those decisions, Hancock County Commissioners Brad Armstrong and Marc Huber argued.

The boards met this week planning to finalize details of a resolution that calls for the commissioners to offer a 50-year lease to the agricultural association for county-owned farm land identified as a prime location for a new fairgrounds, provided the association can fundraise the money needed to make the project a reality.

To get the ball rolling, the Hancock County Council will commit funding from a proposed increase to the county’s 1 percent food and beverage tax, paid by diners at Hancock County restaurants — should the increase be approved by the Indiana General Assembly, the resolution states. The tax hike is expected to bring in about $12 million over 20 years.

The agreement gives the association until 2020 to raise the remaining $6 million needed to fund the estimated cost, or the lease will be terminated.

After nearly an hour of discussion with no consensus over which group should control the project, the agricultural association and board of commissioners agreed to take the matter up again in two weeks at the commissioners’ regular Oct. 18 meeting.

For more on this story, read Thursday’s Daily Reporter.