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Macon County Fair struggles with finances, future

Published: Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 8:29 a.m. CST

DECATUR (MCT) -- When Macomb resident Jeff Thorman won several of the Macon County Fair's judged competitions for dairy cattle in June, he looked forward to a nice little payday for his troubles.

After all, he had spent more than $350 in entrance fees but was supposed to be walking away with about $600 in premiums. The only problem is that some four months later, Thorman has yet to receive a check from the fair. He is joined by many other contest entrants who have registered complaints on the Macon County Fair's Facebook page regarding late or nonexistent payments of fair premiums.

"I have contacted them multiple times and got in touch with a board member at one point who tried her best to be helpful, but it sounded like her hands were tied," said Thorman, a high school teacher.

"This was the second year at the fair for us. Last year, it took about six weeks to get payment, which was already longer than we've ever had with any other fair."

According to Macon County Fair Treasurer Teresa Wilson, the reason for the nonpayment has been a lack of funds as a result of lower fair attendance. She insisted that many premiums had been paid and that the rest of them would continue to be sent out.

"Some of the premiums haven't been paid yet, but all of the performers have been paid," said Wilson, who took over the treasurer position only three weeks ago. "A lot of the livestock premiums haven't been paid yet. Some is because of the fair's income, as attendance was down and we didn't bring in as much money. Funding is being set aside from each week's bingo games to pay them."

Regardless of upcoming payment, it's another bad sign for the fair, which has made its funding and attendance struggles public in the past few years. It changed its focus to local music from national acts this year as a cost-saving measure, with former board member Melissa Muirheid saying in June that the fair "could easily go away, and I'm not sure if the town would care." This year saw low attendance, even for staples such as the tractor pull, which was at least partially affected by the weather.

"The tractor pull is usually our best night, but rain was predicted all night and the grandstand was empty," Wilson said. "It should have been our best night, but it wasn't."

Meanwhile, some contest winners are still waiting for premiums, including winners of horse, cattle and swine competitions who made their concerns public via Facebook. Complaints have even been registered with the office of Macon County State's Attorney Jay Scott.

"We have received several complaints about lack of payments, so we assigned one of our investigators to look into it, and we have been in contact with fair administration," Scott said.

Wilson declined to comment on the state's attorney's involvement but said the organization would continue working to get everyone paid and bring back the fair next year.

"We're planning and re-evaluating what it could look like in the future," Wilson said. "We would like to continue the nostalgia of the past but implement new cost-saving measures. We're making cuts where we can."

(c)2013 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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