BROOKSVILLE — The county fair will go on. And the county will be free of a maze of contradictory leases and legal liability issues.
That is the upshot of a unanimous vote by county commissioners Tuesday that gives much of the county-owned fairgrounds property to the Hernando County Fair Association.
When they first heard the idea in March, several commissioners balked at giving away the land despite the history of multiple leases, undocumented agreements and questionable accounting by past county officials.
Since then, county officials have continued to negotiate with the fair association to settle the outstanding legal issues concerning the property.
Most of the 35 acres along U.S. 41 has been leased for years by Hernando County to the association. The easternmost portion of the property houses the county's cooperative extension services office and Animal Services. Those facilities, however, stand on land that had been leased to the association. No documentation exists to show those leases ever were relinquished by the association.
Under the plan presented to the commission on Tuesday, the association would get the acreage that fronts on U.S. 41 and holds the auditorium and main fairgrounds, as well as a parcel to the east of the fairgrounds.
The county would get a slice of property where the cooperative extension services facility now sits, large enough to allow for future expansion or construction.
Donna Peacock, cooperative extension service director, told commissioners she felt better about getting a larger chunk of property so that, whenever a new facility goes in, it will be on county-owned ground.
The county would also get the land where Animal Services is located, without any strings tied by old leases.
Assistant county attorney Kent Weissinger pointed out that the county would get the added benefit of not owning the old auditorium or grounds where a variety of high-risk activities take place over the course of the year.
As owners, the fair association will be in a better position to get financing for making facility improvements.
Weissinger said the other change from the original proposal is that the county would be consulted before any major changes or improvements on the site, which would mean the arrangement "would be a much more cooperative affair'' between the county and the fair association.
If the association ceases to operate a fair for three consecutive years, the land reverts back to the county.
"This is in the county's best interests and in the fair association's best interests,'' Weissinger said.
"It's important we stress here that in conveying the property to the fair board, it continues to remain in the public domain,'' said Commissioner Dave Russell, who serves also on the fair board and helped negotiate the deal. "It allows the fair board to advance in making improvements to the property.''
Commissioner Jeff Stabins asked deputy county administrator Larry Jenkins if the deal constituted a "win, win.''
"We felt this was the best way to settle out the problems that existed there,'' Jennings said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.