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Nebraska State Fair Board approves 2021 budget, board member resigns

The Nebraska State Fair Board met Friday to approve the budget for 2021. One board member...
The Nebraska State Fair Board met Friday to approve the budget for 2021. One board member raised concerns over how the finances are being handled.(Nebraska State Fair)
Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 3:56 PM CST
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - The Nebraska State Fair Board met Friday to approve the budget for 2021. One board member raised concerns over how the finances are being handled.

The budget for 2021 is set to be significantly less than in previous years. With the cutbacks and the hopes for a more normal fair they plan to come out profitable. Board member Jeremy Jensen still had questions he wanted answered before approval.

“We’re being asked to approve expenses for things that frankly have not been addressed,” Jensen said. “Major problems that were uncovered from 2019.”

Jensen has been digging into the 2019 financials of the fair that has led to some controversy. He brought up the fact that around 47.5% of the fair’s money comes from the state and Grand Island. He had examples of wages that he thought needed to be further investigated.

Some of the expenses Jensen listed for the media include:

  • One person, who oversees the cleaning crews, was paid $25,000.
  • One person, who oversees gate scheduling, was paid $14,000; and combined with her husband and two children, they netted over $23,000.
  • One person, who ran a relatively idle box office, was paid $10,000.
  • One person, who set up and oversaw beverage stations, was paid $15,000.
  • Spending over $90,000 on about 130 seasonal employees making $11.25/hour to work the gates. However, certain people who had personal relationships with supervisors (or were family members) were paid $15.00/hour and $22.50/hour OT to do the same job.
  • $4,200 to the spouse of an employee to help with livestock check-in.
  • $9,000 to the person who assists the NSF in making signs on site.
  • $36,000 per year to have a lobbyist in Lincoln

Executive Director Bill Ogg said he has already begun to address some of the financial concerns from before he took his position. He believes it will take time to fully investigate wages and other competitive prices.

“We want to progress and have every year an improvement over the past. But you only do that, you only make significant change in improvement if we’re working 2-3 years, 10 years out. Not eight months,” Ogg said.

Jensen asked for more transparency of where money is being allocated. In the November meeting, he asked for a public special meeting for the financial committee to go over the expenses and why they cost what they do. He also suggested Ogg present to the city council where the money from Grand Island is being spent.

“So given our past of all the problems that we have had financially, you would think that this organization would say ‘you know what let’s have Jamie and Bill walk through exactly how we’re going to spend our money,” Jensen said.

Ogg and Chairwoman Beth Smith emphasized that the budget is open to viewing from the public. He also said the budget has been worked on by the whole staff to reflect what they need to put on an affordable fair.

“Going forward we will look at all of those because we want it to be affordable. We can not, just time wise, RFP every one of those for ’21,” Ogg said. “But selectively over time all of those services will have requests for proposals and an on-going look.”

The budget passed with only two people voting against it. Jensen stated he will be resigning from the board over his frustrations with transparency and calls for change.

The board is planning to hold a fair close to normal if possible next year. There are plans for national acts to perform and have a carnival again.

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