O.C. Fair Board approves $44.2-million budget for 2018

Orange County Fair Board members approved a budget Thursday that includes spending to create a new community relations department and establish a rental relief program to help community groups host events at the fairgrounds.

On an 8-0 vote, with member Ashleigh Aitken absent, the board approved the 2018 spending plan — which projects a total revenue of $48.2 million and expenses of $44.2 million.

Those numbers are up several million dollars from the figures seen in 2016 and forecast this year for the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa.

Anticipated boosts in concession sales, proceeds from admissions and parking fees are among the factors fueling the expected revenue increase, according to figures presented Thursday. Also aiding the bottom line: additional shows are being planned in the Pacific Amphitheatre next year.

On the other side of the ledger, the Fair & Event Center is projecting its labor costs will rise in 2018, partly because the state minimum wage will increase by 50 cents to $11 an hour in January. That hike will affect approximately 882 seasonal fairgrounds employees.

Funding is also included in the budget to staff the Fair & Event Center’s new community relations department — which will focus on public outreach, program development and promoting educational assets, such as Centennial Farm and the Heroes Hall veterans museum.

The now-adopted budget also includes money for rental relief, which Chief Executive Kathy Kramer called “the program I’m most excited about this year.”

Under that program, $200,000 will be made available to help nonprofits, community organizations and government agencies offset the fees for holding events and meetings at the fairgrounds.

“There’s an ongoing, common theme during our public meetings, as well as at the board of directors’ meetings, on how do we make our property affordable and accessible to the community,” Kramer said.

The budget, as adopted, does not outline any increase to general admission tickets for the annual Orange County Fair.

The price for a “super pass” — which provides admission to the fair throughout its 23-day run, as well as other discounts and benefits — will be raised by $5 and cost between $23 and $40, depending on when the pass is purchased and the age of the holder.

Those increases are expected to result in an additional $90,000 in revenue, according to figures from the Fair & Event Center.

Among the key initiatives that went into building the budget, fairgrounds officials said, are laying the groundwork for the future — such as the ongoing efforts to develop a master site plan and strategic business plan — and preparing the organization for life after some of its more senior and longer-tenured employees retire.

Another major focus is investing in the fairgrounds’ technological resources and examining ways to use and integrate systems more efficiently and robustly, Kramer added.

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