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Commission requests audit of Hernando County Fair Association Inc

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At the December 15, 2020 regular Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, the board individually listed their requests of items to be discussed at the upcoming Legislative Delegation meeting, scheduled for January 29, 2021.  Commissioner Jeff Holcomb presented a request that the Hernando County Fairgrounds be audited due to the state of the property and its buildings, and questions about accounting practices.
After guidance from County Attorney Garth Coller, the board consensus was unanimous that the issue be referred to the Auditor General who “Reviews the circumstances of the fair’s operations and to make sure they are meeting the “spirit of the law that they’re required to operate under.” 
Holcomb called into question a grant application submitted by the fairgrounds last year that shows dilapidated buildings.  Fairgrounds management submitted a grant application for $450,000 to build a barn and add outside lighting for parking lots and to renovate the auditorium.  It is not known at this time at which stage the application is in.  Holcomb said, “Showing all those dilapidated buildings — that’s the reason why they should not have $450,000.”
“Their best building is half-painted,” Holcomb said during the presentation, as he mentioned that weeds surround the grounds, and multiple buildings, including the ticket booth and bathrooms have been unrepaired since Hurricane Irma in 2017.  Additionally, Holcomb stated that the barn used for 4H events is “unsafe to use.”
These reports were corroborated by Deanna Naugler, a local resident who participated in fairground events as a child, and now accompanies her daughter, son and grandson during their events.  “The condition of those fairgrounds are deplorable, and it is unsafe for these kids … The support beams in those barns are rotted away at the bottom.”
Commissioner John Allocco responded to Naugler, recommending that she reach out to the City of Brooksville, since the buildings on the fairgrounds fall within the jurisdiction of their building inspection department. 
Holcomb reported that in 2014 the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) found “reasonable suspicion” and “slipshod accounting.”  He went on to say that since then, there has been “no evidence that this has been corrected with an audit or any other accounting documents.”  He also stated, “The president pays [their] spouse a salary who is a vendor [and] also receives contracts to do repairs.”
“The fairgrounds is a train wreck… It’s primary role is for 4H and the FFA (Future Farmers of America).  The youth compete in various events and projects, but the barn is uninhabitable, and most of the buildings are suffering damage from the hurricane… many officials have requested audits, but nothing’s happened.  Buildings don’t get repaired, and it just keeps falling apart.  It’s time to get rid of this eyesore, so I’m seeking to add this to our legislative agenda… specifically requesting a general audit to conduct an operational and performance audit [on the fairgrounds].” 
Commissioner Wayne Dukes said that the fairgrounds has been a subject since he’s been a member of the BOCC.  Dukes stated, “[The fairgrounds] has a stipulation in their contract that the only way they can be done away with is if they didn’t have a fair for 3 years.”   
A memorandum of agreement between the Hernando County Fair Association and Hernando County signed in 2008 states, “The Fairgrounds Parcel shall be conveyed by the County to the Fair Association pursuant to a statutory deed, subject to statutory reversion if a county fair is not held for any three consecutive calendar year period to pursuant to s. 616.14(2)F, ,S…”
Commissioner Steve Champion mentioned the fact that the fairgrounds are not owned by Hernando County, but privately.  Champion asked if “Hernando County” could be removed from the official name of the fairgrounds due to this fact.  Dukes also agrees that an audit should take place. 
Per the county property appraiser, the Hernando County Fair Association Inc. owns the 37.4 acre (MOL) property referred to as the Hernando County Fairgrounds.  The president and director of the Hernando County Fair Association Inc. is Shari Klimas.

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