EATON — Preble County farmer Fred Voge spoke to the Preble County Commissioners during their meeting on Wednesday, April 1, regarding the Preble County Agricultural Society. He urged the two parties to work together and asked for the commissioners to explain the situation.
“It’s no big secret my heart is in agriculture and I don’t know anything else. To give you a little history, a lot of the property at the fairground was given to the Preble County Commissioners, Preble County government, Preble County Fair Board by your agricultural sector here in Preble County. Especially, in about  when the Pork Festival bought the Richards’ property, along with the land that went out towards Wayne Trace Road. That was deeded over to our county, no cost,” he said.
“Actually in the big scheme of things, and more significantly, was the ground the Fair Board bought and paid for that is directly across from the Grange Hall there. While they were paying for that ground was when I was a commissioner. During that year, I think I attended all the Fair Board meetings so I could maybe understand some of the issues they were dealing with. It was obvious they were struggling. To make a long story short, they paid for it, and now it belongs to [Preble County].”
He added, he is concerned after reading posts on social media about the recent letter the Preble County Ag Society sent to the Preble County Commissioners and the $45,359.27 from the DP&L Easement that started the situation.
“My suggestion is, try to get along on this stuff. I get around county fairs probably as much as anyone in Preble County, maybe more. Also in Georgia, Indiana, and Nebraska. I don’t know that there is a county fair I’ve been to anywhere that has facilities any better than what our has. Now we have an issue of maintaining that,” he said.”I’m urging you to get along with them the best you can.”
According to the commissioners, the money from the easement was always intended to be invested back into the Fairgrounds.
Commissioner Rodney Creech said, “Just for clarification, we’ve always had a good working relationship with the Fair Board. There are some outside sources that are trying to destroy that and it is sad. Back in September, we said we were going to invest that money [from the easement] into the fairgrounds. Again, due to politics and political agendas, they’re trying to make us look bad.”
“That money that we got, they only [originally] offered us about $7,000 or something crazy like that and [we said] that’s not going to happen. We did get more than they were trying to offer us. We said at the time that was going to be money that would be reinvested down at the Fairgrounds. It is on the record, you can look it up. We were going to keep that money focused on the Fairgrounds,” Commission President Denise Robertson said.
Voge asked where the money is currently and the board responded that it is currently unused in the General Fund.
Creech added, they intended the money to be used for capital improvements at the Fairgrounds. According to Robertson, they wanted to use the money to work on the Expo Expansion project.
“I think the money needs to be used to generate revenue or reduce expenses,” Creech said.
Voge asked if there was “any truth to the story” that the Commissioners granted an easement across from the Fairgrounds for no cost.
Commissioner Robertson explained, while Preble County did not get payment for the Fiber Optics easement, the Preble County Fairgrounds does receive free internet through that deal.
“There are two different easements that happened. The one easement was for Fiber Optics for internet to go across, to reach that side of the city, those businesses over there. That was an easement we did grant, I wouldn’t say ‘for nothing,’ because they’ll have free internet access down there they can use for their public,” she said.
“They actually had one of the channels for the internet they could have charged a premium on, they could have made money on. They still can! The manager at the time said, ‘Oh no, we don’t want to mess with that.’ So there is a money-making opportunity in that easement for the Fiber Optics and the internet. Then the other easement is the DP&L easement.”
The board added, the premium channel still exists where the Fair Board could charge vendors for premium internet access.
“They chose not to take advantage of that, for whatever reason. I don’t understand it, because they were always complaining about the WiFi down there, how they couldn’t get it. Part of this deal was they get free internet, free WiFi and all that, and as [Robertson] said, there is a portion of that they could receive revenue off of,” Commissioner Chris Day said.
“The other thing to consider is, getting that internet through there and getting it to one of our bigger businesses in town, was crucial, because they needed the bandwidth. They desperately needed that and we want to try to help out businesses out as much as possible.”
Creech added, neither easement is effecting the Fairgrounds negatively in any way.
“Just for clarification, they were in the loop, even though people said they weren’t. They sat right here at this table and knew what was going on at all times,” he said.
According to Day, they have been cooperative with the Ag Society over the years and have helped to support them over the years.
“The money the commissioners have forgiven over the years is astronomical,” he said. “Over the years, to say this office is not supportive of the fairgrounds is just ludicrous. We’re all huge supporters of them.”
Voge asked for a list of Preble County funding history to the Preble County Agricultural Society, which Commissioner Day provided him.
After reviewing that list, Voge asked when the list was compiled and Commission Clerk Kim Keller said it is ongoing and had been updated this year. He asked if there were files on all money referenced. Voge was skeptical of the round numbers listed, instead of specific numbers with cents.
“It looks very suspicious to me. Coming right out to the penny on these numbers,” he said.
According to Keller, the list was started before her time. Commission Day said those numbers could have been specified as allowing access to “up to” that amount of money, with the Ag Society funding the rest of the cost.
Voge also had questions about a 20-year bond which is mentioned on the list for July of 1996. He asked to see how much of the $200,000 bond the Preble County Commissioners and the Ag Society each paid.
“My initial reaction to this is it is an attempt on the part of our county government to paint a worst case scenario of what has happened down there,” Voge said.
Commissioner Day said that wasn’t the intention, while Commissioner Creech said this is an internal document meant for the commissioners to keep track of the funding history.
Day also said the intention of this list was not to be “to the penny,” but rather give a general idea of the funding history at the Preble County Fairgrounds.
“I don’t think any of us have ever used that document to go, ‘Look at everything we’ve done.’ It is just for internal use. Now, anybody can get it, but I don’t care what happened 20 years ago, we’re dealing with today,” Creech said.
Voge reiterated he believes the document to be misleading and still had questions regarding the bond. Day explained, the Ag Society had multiple loans it could not pay and the county bonded those loans into one. He wasn’t sure how the payments broke down, but both the Ag Society and the Preble County Commissioners paid on the bond.
Voge added, if that was the case, the bond should have been portrayed differently on the document, which he still finds to be misleading.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH