County fairs must steer around California budget cuts 

The purse for that prize-winning steer may be a little less meaty at this year’s Junior Grand National at the Cow Palace.

Leaner payouts at the annual livestock show for kids could be one of the few tangible impacts on the Peninsula from the governor’s proposal to eliminate $32 million in funding for the state’s 78 county fairs.

The Cow Palace would lose $140,000 of its $4.5 million budget, which the Daly City venue currently uses to support the Junior Grand National during the nine-day Grand National Rodeo in October.

Cow Palace General Manager Joe Barkett said the rodeo will go on, but the state cut would likely mean reducing the several hundred prizes — ranging from $2 to several thousand dollars — for the cows, sheep, pigs and other animals presented at the show.

“A big beef cattle class, where it costs a lot of money to raise these animals, would have a higher award or purse than the kid with the little rabbit,” Barkett said, “but it’s important to all of them.”

Meanwhile, the San Mateo Event Center, which will lose about $100,000 in state fair funds, is predicting no impact on the nine-day San Mateo County Fair in June.

The event center, with a budget of $8 million, is largely self-sufficient and does not receive a subsidy from the county.

“We’re operating this facility as if we’ve lost the funding already,” General Manager Chris Carpenter said.

Officials cut pre-sale ticket prices by $2 and added more free entrance days in hopes of boosting attendance, which dipped to 110,000 last year from 135,000 in 2009.

“Based on where the economy is, we want to do our part to offer some better pricing,” Carpenter said.

Despite their little state funding, San Mateo County fairs could face higher costs if smaller state fairs are forced to close, said Steve Chambers, president of the Western Fairs Association.

Traveling ride operators and food vendors who rely on a network of fairs could charge higher fees, and the joint insurance pool that all fairs use could get more expensive, he said.

Chambers said state fairs generate $127 million in revenues for the state, mostly in sales and income taxes.

“We think that, year one, they will actually lose more than they save,” he said.

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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Shaun Bishop

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