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Lake County Fair Association $4M in debt

Greg Koeppen is executive director Lake County Farm Bureau.

Greg Koeppen is executive director of the Lake County Farm Bureau.

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Updated: April 2, 2011 5:26PM

Roughly $4 million in debt and facing scathing criticism from one of its members, the Lake County Fair Association voted in favor of several major financial measures at its annual meeting Tuesday night.

The association membership voted overwhelmingly to adopt proposals by member Greg Koeppen to hire a fair manager, to make audits available for review from 2004 to the present, to make available for review all current liens on fair property and to form finance and business committees.

In a separate vote not initiated by Koeppen, the membership also approved moving forward with an application for a $7.5 million government-guaranteed loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would be used to pay off the fair’s debt and complete buildings at its new site in Grayslake.

Koeppen, who is the executive director of the Lake County Farm Bureau but stressed he was speaking as a fair association member, said fair association has watched as it fell deeper and deeper in debt. He compared it to a student going off to college with his first credit card after earning a nominal sum with summer work.

“The student heads off to college with that plastic card in hand and begins to charge books, food, nights out, expensive clothes, etcetera,” Koeppen said. “Folks, the Lake County Fair Association is also that 18 year old. We were given 160 acres and a sum of money for our ‘summer work’ and, just like that student, we bought the best without thinking about those bills.”

Koeppen said the association has $2 million in outstanding loan debt and owes about $2.2 million to contractors who have placed liens on fair property, figures that were confirmed by Dave DeYoung, fair president and board member.

Koeppen said he made his remarks and proposals “to ensure we have a fair today and into the future because, frankly, the course we are on now will be the demise of the Lake County Fair Association in the near future.”

His address was met with applause, and he said Wednesday that several association members told him after the meeting that they had shared the same concerns.

DeYoung attributed much of the association’s current situation to the economy, but said he believes the loan through the USDA will help alleviate the problem because once the buildings are completed, the fair can begin receiving revenue from their use.

He also said the association has 19 acres of land east of Midlothian Road at the new site available for sale, and that revenue from that sale will eventually help the financial situation.

As to Koeppen’s remarks, DeYoung said it was a public meeting and “everyone has their opinion.”

“There are other businesses struggling, but yes, we have our problems too,” he said

DeYoung said the Fair Board views the vote by the membership binding, and will move forward with Koeppen’s suggestions, as well as the USDA loan, which the board was already pursuing.

Board President Bill Obenauf recently announced he was stepping down as president and from the board, and a new board member, Dan Sramek, has been appointed.

DeYoung said the board will elect a new president at a meeting in the near future.

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