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O.C. Fair Board says no to raising ticket prices as it approves new budget

O.C. Fair Board says no to raising ticket prices as it approves new budget
Orange County Fair visitors walk the grounds in 2017. The Fair Board decided Thursday not to raise ticket prices for the 2019 fair. (File Photo)

The Orange County Fair Board approved a new budget Thursday that includes funding to create additional staff positions and bankroll the anticipated relocation of a Vietnam War-era jet to the Costa Mesa fairgrounds.

However, the 2019 spending plan — which projects total revenue of $52.2 million and expenses of $48.7 million — might be most notable for what it doesn’t include.

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Despite projections showing that the OC Fair & Event Center could face a budget deficit as soon as 2021, board members decided not to raise ticket prices for next year’s Orange County Fair, saying they preferred to have a more robust conversation about the organization’s financial position and other available options.

Fairgrounds staff had suggested the board consider a $2 increase in general admission prices, which currently are $12 on weekdays and $14 on weekends. Doing so would generate about $1 million in additional revenue, staff said.

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Board members, though, said they were wary of ratcheting up costs for fair-goers, especially without fully vetting potential alternatives.

“We don’t want to just look at this as, ‘We’re raising prices on the working families and we’re raising prices on consumers and that’s going to be the answer to all of our questions and problems,’ ” said board member Ashleigh Aitken. “Because I don’t think that’s a fair thing to do to the Orange County community at large.”

Board member Douglas La Belle said it’s important to “make sure we’re being as cost-effective as we can in terms of how we operate.”

“I think, clearly, before we look at increasing anything we need to have a real careful look at both sides of the ledger,” he said.

After signing off on the budget, the board directed staff to place a broader financial discussion on a meeting agenda before the next fair starts in July. Both votes were 8-0, with board member Newton Pham absent.

The approved spending plan outlines $175,000 for three new positions: a health, safety and environmental supervisor tasked with initiatives related to risk management, inspections, energy stewardship and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act; a security and traffic supervisor and an office coordinator for production and facilities.

Additionally, the budget sets aside $100,000 to cover the anticipated cost of moving an A-4 Skyhawk jet currently housed at the Santa Ana Civic Center to a new home near the Heroes Hall veterans museum on the fairgrounds.

Overall, expenses are anticipated to be $3.6 million higher than this year’s figures and revenue $2.9 million higher.

2 new members officially join board

Thursday’s meeting was the first for new board members Natalie Rubalcava-Garcia and Andreas Meyer.

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed the pair last month to fill the unpaid positions vacated by Nick Berardino and Stan Tkaczyk, both of whom resigned from the board in June.

Rubalcava-Garcia, 39, of Anaheim, is chief operating officer of the Orange County Business Council.

Meyer, 35, of Irvine, has served as associate general counsel at Chapman University in Orange since 2017, following a stint as university counsel at USC from 2011 to 2017.

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