The Kansas State Fair brought visitors to Hutchinson for 105 years, and the city manager thinks it will continue to do so for another century.
City Manager John Deardoff said he thought a bill introduced at the Statehouse on Monday that could move the Kansas State Fair elsewhere was motivated to get more financial help from the city and county to cover fair costs. Deardoff said those conversations have been going on for years.
But he agreed the bill would spur conversations that slowed down after the city’s stormwater utility fee increase put a "kink" in talks between the entities.
"We just haven’t been able to come to any kind of agreement," Deardoff said, adding the city talked about installing an above- or below-ground retention pond on the parking lot area of the fairgrounds.
The retention pond, as spelled out in the 2016 stormwater fee ordinance, allows for a tax credit to lower the stormwater fee obligation.
Kansas State Fair by the numbers
$74.6 million: total estimated contribution to the state economy.
$4,182,374: total spent by fair attendees on day trips to the fair
$40,256,910: total spent by fair attendees staying overnight.
$30.48: average spent per person on day trips
$186: average spent per overnight trip.
353,652: average fair attendance over five years.
29,580: five-year average grandstand attendance.
Source: Kansas Department of Agriculture
Deardoff noted Home Depot and "numerous" other businesses have taken advantage of the tax credit. The city, he said, is responsible for building the retention pond and the tax credit is based on the size of the retention pond.
"I think in the fair’s case, we are willing to talk outside of the ordinance due to the (size and) value of that area," Deardoff said. He pointed to a study showing that area in high need of a retention pond.
Previously, the stormwater fee for commercial properties ranged from $4 to $128 depending on the square footage of the property. That fee changed in 2016 to $4.75 per 3,120 square feet of waterproof surface, which includes buildings and any solid surfaces like asphalt or concrete.
With the change, the Kansas State Fair’s annual cost for the stormwater fees went from $1,536 to $51,349 in 2017, city records show. To offset the stormwater and a Westar Energy increase, the state appropriated an additional $150,000 for to the fair for the 2018 fiscal year (July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018) and for the 2019 fiscal year.
The change to residential and commercial stormwater fees brought annual revenue for the utility from around $530,000 to $2.2 million in 2017.
The Hutchinson City Council approved the increase in January 2015. The increases considered input from the stormwater advisory committee which included Keith Schroeder, who at the time was the fair's physical plant manager.
The city manager said more recent talks mentioned a percentage of transient guest tax going to the fair. That measure would require city council approval.
Deardoff said he sent an email on Tuesday to city Mayor Steve Dechant, County Administrator Gary Meagher and Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Debra Teufel to meet on Wednesday morning. Deardoff said the meeting is to determine how to respond to the bill.
"We support and will remain steadfast in solidarity with local elected officials and community partners to ensure that the Kansas State Fair remains in Hutchinson for years to come," Teufel said in a press release from her office.
Staff Writer Mary Clarkin contributed to this story.