It was kind of a trial balloon, and kind of a bomb, from Commissioner Ron Krehbiel during a discussion of budget goals for the Harvey County Commission March 12.
Krehbiel floated the idea of looking at a property sale.
"With the separation (of the county and the Harvey County Fair Board), is anyone for looking into possibly getting rid of our 80 acres out there," Krehbiel asked. "We could get some of the money back for that. ... I don't know. This is something I have been asked about and have had some thoughts about it myself."
He is talking about 76 acres at the corner of Southwest 26th and South Kansas Ave. A sign erected more than a decade ago proclaims the spot as the site of a commercial development — and a new fairgrounds for Harvey County.
The county sold bonds to finance the purchase of that ground. Those bonds will be retired in 2021. Commissioner Chip Westfall said the county could face penalties if they retired those bonds early.
Currently the county is paing about $104,000 per year to service the debt.
The separation referred to is the county fair board, at the behest of the county, incorporating as its own entity. The commission agreed to pay legal fees, about $500, for those efforts at the same meeting March 12.
"There is really no current different relationship with the fair board, other than we have some things worked out from a legal perspective and a tax perspective that needed to be changed," said Anthony Swartzendruber, county administrator. "I don't see the commitment changing from what it is in the past."
The county agreed in March of 2008 ito a purchase price of $836,000. At the time of the purchase, county officials pointed to a bond issued to pay for county jail expiring in 2011. The county was going to wait until that bond expired to begin financing a new fairgrounds and convention area in an attempt to avoid raising the county mill levy.
In August of 2008, The Harvey County Public Building Commission voted to market $915,000 in bonds for the purchase of property. The bonds included $837,000 for the purchase of 76 acres on the southwest corner of Southwest 36th Street and Old Highway 81. The remaining funds were for funding the sale and interest.
The county marketed about 11 acres, adjacent to Old 81 designated to be sold for commercial development. No one has stepped forward to purchase that ground.
"We have had some nibbles," Westfall said. "But it is not in the city, and they wanted utilities."
There was a plan, but no money to implement it. Drawings for a facilty included a western motif for multiple buildings to be constructed. However, there was never any money appropriated for the project.
The city of Newton owns the ground underneath the current fair buildings — with a new lease agreement created within the last year.
The current fair buildings that do not meet ADA requirements and in some cases, the fair has outgrown them. There are other issues as well, like a four-lane street dividing the fair in half.
The buildings are in constant need of maintenance.
"Even though the fair association has become their own entity, what I have heard from (the commission) is you are not changing your commitment in continuing to fund their organization and you are not changing your commitment to fund improvements to those buildings as you have done in they past if the come to you," Swartzendruber said.
The commission sold off the ResCare facility it owned last year, and investigated the possibility of a sale of Camp Hawk last year as well. Following a public vote which came out against the sale of the park, the county shelved those plans.
The commission took no formal action March 13 in regards to the property.
"If there is analysis that you would like, we are willing to provide that analysis to you," Swartzendruber said. "... and before there would be any decision about that, I would suggest to you that would hold several public meetings out inthe community to get people's input. We have a recent example (Camp Hawk) where we did not go through that process and it is beneficial to that process."