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W.Va. governor says festivals likely safe from cuts

Parkersburg News and Sentinel file photo Madison Richards and Kennedy Harris of Wirt County ride the Tilt-A-Whirl at the West Virginia Interstate Fair and Exposition during the opening of the 42nd annual fair in July.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel file photo
Madison Richards and Kennedy Harris of Wirt County ride the Tilt-A-Whirl at the West Virginia Interstate Fair and Exposition during the opening of the 42nd annual fair in July.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin says West Virginia’s fairs and festivals likely will be safe from next year’s budget crunch.

The state is looking at a more than $100 million funding gap for Fiscal Year 2016. The governor will present a balanced budget in January to the state Legislature and has said he intends to use about $100 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help cover the gap.

Tomblin announced he would not see across-the-board budget cuts as he has during the past two years, but would instead ask departments to “tighten their belts” and find areas of savings within their own budgets.

Finance administrators have indicated there may be targeted cuts to specific programs, but none have been announced.

Tomblin said almost annually someone suggests cutting or reducing the budget line for the state’s fairs and festivals, but it is a move he and legislators have resisted.

“There are hundreds of fairs and festivals around the state that are funded, a lot of them at $500, not a huge amount of money,” he said. “That is one of those things that legislators traditionally do not want to cut.”

Years ago many fairs and festivals were funded through the now-defunct Budget Digest or as part of the budget of other departments, such as some county fairs being listed under the state Department of Agriculture. Now all of the events are listed in the budget under the state Division of Culture and History’s $4.7 million budget.

In the FY2015 budget, the fairs and festivals received $1,853,663, and Tomblin said they likely will be funded at the same level for FY2016. Several events also are listed separate from the festival and fairs budget line, including $43,391 for the West Virginia State Fair, $54,962 for the Mountain State Forest Festival, and $82,444 for the Contemporary American Theater Festival.

State Budget Director Mike McKown said the FY2015 funding is slightly less than the FY2014 budget of $1,893,335, and events must re-apply for funding each year.

“There is a lot of paperwork they have to file, and if they don’t, they don’t get the money,” he said.

Tomblin said individual fairs and festivals can receive as little as a few hundred dollars from the state, or thousands of dollars depending on the size and economic impact of the event.

“I think that for the amount of money that goes in and the amount that it puts back into the community, it’s worth the money,” Tomblin said. “These are events that, without a little bit of help from the state, they couldn’t have these family, community or county fairs.”

Tomblin said he believes the events bring communities together and help bring tourism to small towns.

“It contributes to the quality of life in small-town West Virginia,” he said. “I think these events really return a lot of money to communities, because people want to come back to West Virginia, back to their hometown.”

In 2012, visitor spending on arts, entertainment and recreation in West Virginia totaled $315 million, which includes direct spending at fairs and festivals, according to the Economic Impact of Travel in West Virginia 2000-2012 report by Dean Runyon Associates.

“Many of our fairs and festivals are unique to West Virginia – including the upcoming Mothman Festival and Bridge Day as well as the State Fair of West Virginia which embraces the spirit of the Mountain State,” said Amy Shuler Goodwin, state commissioner of tourism and deputy secretary of commerce. “These annual events not only connect our communities, they embrace our culture and history and highlight the many unique opportunities for adventure in West Virginia – attracting national and international visitors to our state.”

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