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Napa County doesn't want fairgrounds operating expenses
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Infrastructure

Napa County doesn't want fairgrounds operating expenses

From the Coronavirus roundup from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan series
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Napa County intends to close the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga, unless Calistoga wants to operate it.

BARRY EBERLING

beberling@napanews.com

Napa County plans to close the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga as a money-saving step during the COVID-19 financial crisis if Calistoga doesn’t agree to take over.

The county has offered to lease the fairgrounds to Calistoga for $1 annually for up to three years while jointly working on a master plan. Calistoga is to decide by June 2.

“I really hope the City Council entertains leasing it from us,” Supervisor Ryan Gregory said. “It’s their community jewel. It’s surrounded by them. They know how to use it better than we do....”

Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning commented on the county’s move in a Wednesday phone interview.

“It’s understandable from a financial impact why that decision was made,” Canning said. “Unfortunate, in our opinion, they are still the owner and operator of the facility.”

The Calistoga City Council will consider the lease offer on May 19. The offer looks attractive on its face, but the details raise complications and mitigations the council must consider, the vast majority of which are financial, he said.

On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors made it clear what could happen if Calistoga doesn’t step forward. The Board voted 4-1 against operating the fairgrounds during the 2020-21 fiscal year for fear the needed subsidy could be as high as $454,000.

Napa County faces a $20 million general fund shortfall because of COVID-19-related economic woes. It sees the golf course, RV park and other features at the fairgrounds as being money losers during a pandemic.

“These are tough decisions we have to make,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said. “We all have an ideal scenario of what we’d like to see. But it’s what can it be responsibly.”

Board of Supervisors chairperson Diane Dillon disagreed with the decision made by the Board majority. Her supervisor district includes the Calistoga area.

Calistoga residents obtained the fairgrounds in 1938, she said. The only way to get state funding for fairs was to have the county own the land.

“Minimal – minimal – investment of county taxpayer dollars go into this,” Dillon said. “In the upper half of Napa County, this is the only place for community activities. They don’t have an expo. They don’t have a Yountville community center.”

The Calistoga Art Center is a tenant at the fairgrounds and offers art classes and other events. Several speakers during public comments asked that these activities be permitted to resume when the county’s shelter-at-home order allows.

“The arts matter and they make a big difference in helping people heal emotionally and handle the type of challenges we’re facing now,” Karen Lynn Ingalls said. “How can the county close the arts center down without even letting it know this is being considered?”

The county recently amended the shelter-at-home order to allow golf, and some golfers want the fairgrounds course to reopen. But the county sees that as being a costly move.

Over the past couple of years, golfers played about 55 rounds of golf weekly at a rate of $10 to $20 per round. There are 17 regular golfers. Reopening the golf course could cost the county $150,000 in 2020-21, or a government subsidy of $8,800 annually per regular golfer, a county report said.

It’s not unusual that golf fees don’t cover golf course operating costs, the report said. Private golf courses also offer such things as wedding venues, food and alcohol, while the fairgrounds course doesn’t.

Nor do supervisors see the RV park as a money-maker during COVID-19 times. Operating the RV park might be worth further discussion as the economy begins to recover, the report said.

The one thing the county wants to keep at the fairgrounds is parking for Pacific, Gas and Electric and construction crews. These agreements will bring in about $52,500.

Operating the fairgrounds with the RV park could cost the county $304,750 in 2020-21. Operating it with the RV park and golf course could cost $454,380, a county report said. The reason is added staff, service and supply costs.

Even closing the fairgrounds will cost the county $156,025, since some degree of maintenance must be done. That figure includes income from the various parking agreements.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday decided it doesn’t want to go above the $156,025 minimum.

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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