The candidate for Bannock County Commision, District 1; says:
I recently made a trip to Downey to tour the Bannock County South Fairgrounds. I was shocked by what I found. The state of disrepair of the facility due to the continued lack of presence or concern by the existing commissioners and poor oversight of the tax dollars earmarked for our fairgrounds. I believe the buck stops at the top and excuses that blame subordinate staff don’t hold water.
The lack of maintenance for many years has caused the ground to become unsafe for spectators and activity participants. The arena is full of very hard soil as well as rocks. As I walked across the arena, the ground was so hard I did not even leave footprints. It was clear the arena was not safe for any animal or human participant to ride or race without the potential for a devastating injury or loss.
Some of the issues initially seem cosmetic but as my tour, hosted by Mayor Dennis Phillips and Joel continued, the seriousness of the problems was obvious. The fencing is not adequate to keep the rough stock away from spectators. There has been a half-hearted attempt to rectify this situation with new fencing erected along the street but it has not been repaired in the more critical area between the holding pens and the spectator area. Pens have gates hanging from them instead of being attached. There was some evidence of one stall having been used recently without authorization. It was left unclean and no rental payment was made to the county for the use. With no way to police the area or support maintenance staff, secure gates should be in place to keep people from using county facilities without payment. This unauthorized use just adds to the cost of maintenance and drives down the value of facilities for tourism dollars.
As I traversed the grounds, I noticed a large piece of the roof was missing and lying upside down next the hole it had left. For such an easy repair, I was surprised a potentially dangerous object like this was left with the strong winds we have in the area. Along with the broken roof, the buildings have peeling metal around the base and the sides. The rooftops of all the buildings show damage as well.
The new covered arena is very nice but the covering already has rips and tears. If these go without repair, they will expand until the entire cover needs to be replaced. Inside this arena the dirt is so fine that a large cloud of dust rises in the air just from walking. Can you imagine how dusty it is with horses and other animals running through it? This arena was a very good idea, which probably cost a lot of money, but due to the lack of simple maintenance, it very well could become unusable in a few short years. Poor planning and budgeting leads to even more waste.
The restrooms were locked but both of the gentlemen with me kept mentioning how bad they were. If men notice how bad the bathrooms are, they must be bad, indeed.
The grandstands were lacking many things. When the bleachers break, as many sections have, instead of replacing the broken boards, a 2 x 8 is just nailed on top of the broken board. The bleachers bend and flex when you walk on them. In one area, a piece of rebar is sticking out right in front of the lowest seating area. This is definitely unsafe if a child or adult were to trip and fall toward the fencing. I am appalled at the neglect of protections for human and animal safety that has gone unchecked and unresolved by the Commissioners.
The available handicapped access is below standards and ADA requirements with the single access ramp at the end of one grandstand, ending with nowhere for a wheelchair to be placed. Having gone through an ADA training session in the past, this becomes clear to me as another half-hearted attempt to resolve an issue with a temporary patch instead of a real solution.
There is debris and garbage all over the grounds and in the bleachers. Now I understand that the wind blows in Idaho, but using workers in the Sheriff’s Commissioner’s Inmate Labor Detail Program (SCILD) once a month would eliminate this portion of the maintenance cost while utilizing the valuable county asset of the SCILD program. Weeds are overtaking many areas and it is clear that the grounds are not watered with any consistency. A brand new patch of grass which was paid for by a grant from the Ifft Foundation is also suffering from the same story of neglect, and it would be a great loss to the County’s future access to beautification funds if it were allowed to die because it has no water or care.
The solutions for so many of these issues are clear. While not everything can be done at once, it is clear that the current state of the fairgrounds is not the result of one season or one year of neglect but many years of not caring for this property for it to sink into this level of disrepair. I believe in planning and, with a comprehensive plan, this area can once again be a property the County can take pride in.
As I was growing up in Jerome, the annual county fair was the high point of a summer of hard work for all of us enrolled in 4-H. Downey is home to many 4-H groups and should be encouraged to keep up this tradition. The rural nature of the Downey area is a great home for healthy activities for our youth. Showing responsibility through animal ownership is a fantastic way to instill a work ethic in kids. This life style will encourage them to put down the video games and smart phones, and enjoy a healthy, active life.
In a community the size of Downey, events at the local fairgrounds can bring in a significant amount of economic stimulus. If enough paying events were brought into the area, the county should at least be able to clear enough funds to maintain the facilities. It may not turn a profit but it should help to cover maintenance costs. According to Idaho Statutes, Title 31 Chapter 8 31-822, the Commission is charged with the maintenance of the fairground site and regulation of its use. To do anything less is clearly not in the best interests of their constituents.
As your Commissioner, I will take an active role in the fairgrounds. It is simply tragic to see a way of life and time-honored tradition in our community be threatened because no one is paying attention. The South County Fair is a a worthy event that needs to be preserved. Adequate maintenance not only makes sense – it is the right thing to do. Hold your commission accountable for the things they are required to do by Idaho Statute.
I invite you to view the gallery of images I photographed while at the Fairgrounds in Downey. I welcome your thoughts and ideas, not only on how to prevent such problems in the future, but also solutions.