BROOKSVILLE — For weeks, there has been uncertainty among participants over whether this year's Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show would take place.
Fair organizers have yet to present to the state Department of Agriculture the documents needed to obtain an operational permit, raising concerns in the agriculture community that the fair's annual livestock show and auction would be scrubbed.
When members of the fair's livestock committee met Wednesday evening, they were assured by fair leadership that the permit will be issued in time and that the fair, set for April 4 to 12, will go on without a hitch.
But even if the fair were not to happen, committee members wanted to make sure that some type of sale occurs so the young participants will be able sell their animals, said livestock committee member Delena Walton.
"We want everyone to know that we're going to make it happen one way or another," Walton said after the meeting. "These kids have worked so hard raising their animals. They deserve a chance to show people what they've done and to earn their money back."
At stake, she said, are dozens of animals raised by Hernando County's FFA and 4-H chapters.
Earlier this month, a fair board subcommittee issued a report raising concerns over what it called a "pattern of inefficiency and a lack of interoffice discipline with regard to those conducting day-to-day affairs of the association." Among the panel's biggest concerns was the failure to complete the association's 2013 financial statement, which remains past due. The subcommittee also called for a forensic analysis of the fair association's books.
Fair board spokeswoman and former association president Sandra Nicholson said the board has secured the services of a local certified public accountant to create a 2013 financial report. While she declined to identify the accountant, she said he has promised to have the report completed by Tuesday. As for the audit, Nicholson said she has been unable to find an accountant to perform one during tax season, but said the board is gathering cost information so one can be conducted later.
Nicholson said that it is not unusual for the association to wait until March to secure its permit for the annual fair because of the time line for renewal of its liability insurance.
"There is a lot of paperwork required," Nicholson said. "They got started in September, and it ends up in March.''
The hiring of an accountant is a turnaround from the board's stance last week, when Nicholson attempted to have an internally created financial report verified by Clerk of the Court and Comptroller Don Barbee. Barbee refused, saying he wasn't comfortable spending taxpayer dollars to audit and review the association's finances, which would be necessary prior to affixing his signature to the application.
The fair association is also under investigation by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, which is looking at its operations and finances after a complaint by a former board member. Nicholson said the fair board is cooperating with the investigation and has provided the Sheriff's Office with stacks of records in conjunction with the inquiry.
Staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report.