Legislature funds ‘Youth Days’

From the foreground backward, District 2 Legislator Brian Sweet, Legislature Chairman Roy Dimond and District 4 Legislator Robert Headwell Jr. discuss funding for Fonda Fair Youth Days Tuesday night. (The Leader-Herald/Jason Subik)

FONDA — The finance committee of the Montgomery County Legislature approved a resolution to spend $15,000 of the $30,000 in revenues from the county’s “Bed Tax” to pay for two “Youth Days” at the Fonda Fair later this month.

The vote came after several weeks of wrangling over how to pay for the annual contribution the county makes to the Fonda Fair. According to the resolution, the money will give $7,500 per day to the Montgomery County Agricultural Society to pay for the cost of youth under the age of 14 attending the fair on Aug. 30 and Sept. 1.

Nearly all of the members of the finance committee, which is technically comprised of the entire legislature, voted in favor of the spending, except Legislature Chairman Roy Dimond, from District 3, who voted against it. District 5 Legislator Daniel Wilson and District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly were both absent from the meeting and District 8 Legislator Joseph M. Isabel abstained because he said his business does business with the Fonda Fair.

Before voting in favor of the resolution, District 2 Legislator Brian Sweet questioned why the county should use revenue from the Hotel and Motel Occupancy Bed Tax, which is earmarked to promote economic development, to support free admittance to the Fonda Fair.

“I don’t know if this is really economic development,” Sweet said.

District 7 Legislator Michael Pepe said the Bed Tax is also meant to promote tourism, which would include the Fonda Fair. Pepe said the idea to use the Bed Tax came after meetings between Dimond and County Executive Matt Ossenfort. Pepe said Ossenfort suggested using the Bed Tax funding.

The debate over how to fund the annual Fonda Fair Youth Days has occurred against the backdrop of a year in which the County Legislature has been focused on not spending money from the county’s approximately $10 million fund balance, its reserve of unspent revenues. The clamp down on fund balance spending was spurred by large, unexpected costs that occurred during the 2016 budget, which had to be covered using fund balance.

Part of the legislature’s commitment to fund balance discipline has been new monthly reports filed by every county department that has been reviewed by the legislature, to monitor for any major unexpected spending. Pepe Tuesday night said Ossenfort has asked the legislature to allow for a two-month break, August and September, from the monthly spending reports to allow the county’s department heads to focus on preparing for next year’s budget process. Pepe said the monthly reports will resume in October, and Ossenfort and the legislature will discuss whether or not the reports should be changed to bi-monthly or quarterly going forward.

Pepe said the original proposal to pay for the Fonda Fair Youth Days was to use the county’s fund balance, when that idea was nixed the legislature considered taking unspent funds from other departments, but that was dropped after protests from Dimond and other legislators. He said the final proposal was to use the Bed Tax money, which if it went unspent would just end up in next year’s fund balance anyway.

District 6 Legislator John M. Duchessi quipped that the county has had almost as much trouble over the Youth Days funding as the U.S. Congress has had debating healthcare reform.

According to the resolution, the cost of the Fonda Fair Youth Days is calculated assuming about 1,500 individuals under the age of 14 attended the fair for each of its days in 2016.

Dimond said he doesn’t like how the Youth Days spending wasn’t part of the regular 2017 budget, and he questioned the $15,000 cost.

“We’re going to be working tirelessly on this budget and we didn’t even have the courtesy of this being in the budget. That’s part of why I can’t support this,” he said. “The second part is, today I noticed when I went to the fair website I saw that general admittance is $10. Last year, we saw a report that said 2,300 kids went to the fair [in 2015]. So that would be [more than $15,000], but if you look at the website, children six to 11 are $2, so are we paying $8 extra for kids six to 11? Kids under six go in for free every day. So, it’s only on the Wednesday and Friday that all ages are allowed to go free. I’m not even sure if we are getting our money’s worth.”

The full legislature will vote on the funding at its Aug. 29 meeting.

By Patricia Older

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