Crunch time for Ohio’s fair season

By Kolt Buchenroth, Ohio Ag Net

Howard Call, executive director of the Ohio Fair Managers Association (OFMA) testified before the Ohio Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee May 6, presenting a plan to hold Ohio’s 94 county and independent fairs. According to Call, OFMA also presented the plan to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s staff on May 1. The plan lays out how fairs will be able to operate while abiding by social distancing and all other health department guidelines.

“That’s going to be a big job,” Call said. “It’s going to take some effort and some oversight to get people to do that.”

County fair season in Ohio is quickly approaching, with the Paulding County Fair set to start June 13.

“I am very concerned for that county, for its residents, and for those youth and participants,” Call said. “We are just trying to get them to hold on.”

On May 6, Harrison County announced an “abbreviated fair.” On April 30, the Marion County Fair Board announced the cancellation of their fair slated for June 29 though July 4.

“As you know, participating in your communities with your community fairs, county fairs, and festivals, that is a tragic loss in my opinion,” Call said.

Call also voiced concerns that differing county health department interpretations of the orders and rules add additional challenges to planning fairs.

“One of the concerns we shared with the governor’s staff Friday was the local health departments. We’re seeing very non-uniform application across the counties from the local health departments,” said Call, who also serves on the Summit County Fair board. “I’m trying to work with my health department, but again, sometimes they think their badge is bigger than the sheriff’s.”

Senator Bob Peterson (R-Washington Court House) shared those concerns.

“It’s been interpreted differently by various health departments from one county to another. A county line can make a significant difference on what you’re able to do,” Peterson said. “So, that is a problem that we need to continue to address.”

Call also testified that the OFMA has obtained a document from the Ohio Department of Agriculture that abolishes the Amusement Ride Safety Division and Division of Fairs. In a statement, the Ohio Department of Agriculture said COVID-19 has caused an unexpected and serious financial strain on their agency, making it necessary to reevaluate the entire budget and operation. Prior to COVID-19, the Ohio Department of Agriculture was already operating under a very tight budget. With the mass gathering order in place and the amusement ride industry unable to operate, their Amusement Ride Safety Inspectors are not performing inspections. Inspection fees — which are the main revenue source for the Amusement Ride Safety Division — are not being collected, making it necessary to lay off division staff until the industry is once again operating.

“We stand ready to bring our Amusement Ride Safety staff back to work once it is deemed safe to operate amusement parks and ride-oriented events,” said Dorothy Pelanda, Ohio Department of Agriculture Director. “Amusement ride inspections are critical for the safety of Ohioans. When events and places with rides are once again operational, we will have inspectors in place to inspect them prior to opening.”

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