Sumter County Board of Commissioners entertains discussion of resumption of Sumter County Fair this fall

Published 1:08 am Tuesday, May 18, 2021

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AMERICUS – At its May Work Session on Tuesday, May 11, the Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC) heard from several different citizens and a former citizen of Sumter County on various topics during the “Appearances” part of the work session. Once again, the work session was conducted via Zoom video conference call due to concerns over COVID-19.

Reginald Walton, who currently lives in Hampton, GA, addressed the BOC concerning the possible return of the Sumter County Fair to the Sumter County Fairgrounds in September of this year. Though Walton no longer lives in Sumter County, he told the BOC that he is a native of Americus and asked the BOC to extend him a contract to operate the fair this fall at the fairgrounds. Walton is the great nephew of the late Willie Lee Boone Walton, of whom Boone Park is named after.

“At this point, what I’m trying to do is speak with the Board about getting a contract to bring back the fair to Sumter County. That was something that was very important to me as a youth in Americus and we were responsible for bringing it back in 2019,” Walton told the BOC. “It seemed to be just as big then to the kids and the adults as it was for me and my wife when we were young in Americus.”

A year ago in September, the Sumter County Fair did not take place due to COVID-19, but the Southwest Georgia (SOWEGA) Fair did take place in Americus and it was a fair that the BOC did not authorize. In fact, both the BOC and the City of Americus had denied the fair’s operator, Andrew Stringfellow, a permit to have the fair in Sumter County. However, Stringfellow somehow got permission to construct and operate the SOWEGA Fair on private property located near the intersection of Forsyth and Mayo Street.

“We had nothing to do with what went on last year, but we want to pick back up and do things the right way so that it can benefit the county, as well as the citizens of Sumter County,” Walton said. “We have a few things that we put into place to try to make that possible…things that would benefit everyone, as far as giving a percentage off the admission that would well cover the cost of the rental that you all charge every year, as well as putting money back into the county and/or rec department so that you can use it towards things that you see fit as the year goes on.”

Walton added that he would like to use his agency; Peach State Community Involvement Agency, to help re-beautify the fairgrounds and to bring back the livestock that made the fair what it was in previous years. Walton also told the BOC that he is in negotiations with the fair provider, whose father was the actual provider of the fair. He continued by stating that he would like to get the local businesses, the local school system and the colleges involved as well so that all of the citizens of Sumter County have something to call their own.

“It would bring a lot of jobs into the county at least once a year,” Walton said. “It would also give those businesses a chance to grow and thrive and get new customers that they wouldn’t otherwise get.”

Walton added that he and his group would like to be involved in getting the fairgrounds back up to what they were and beyond because, in his opinion, the fairgrounds could be a great place to hold other events. “With us helping the county to uplift that property, you can make more money on it through the year, get more rentals and even increase the rental rate from what you’re renting it for right now,” Walton said. He added that he would like to see vendors from other counties come in and bring some of that revenue into Sumter County and to get investors to come in every year and invest in the fair so that the county could experience more profit.

“I’m asking for a contract with the county in order to get that done,” Walton told the BOC. “If a contract isn’t something that the county would be able to provide, I would like to ask that you would allow me to pay up front for every year that we want to do the fair or you will allow us to do the fair,” Walton told the BOC. “Give us a proclamation naming that particular week or two weeks, however long you all would agree to do it, as Americus-Sumter County Fair Week.”

Board Chairman Mark Waddell asked Walton if the fair would be in either September or October and Walton replied that it would be sometime during that time frame and added that he would consider doing it in late September when it isn’t as hot. Waddell asked Walton if he had spoken with Sumter County Parks and Recreation Department (SCPRD) Director Tim Estes about certain dates, time frames and the expected number of people coming to the fair. Estes, who was attending the meeting, responded that he had spoken with Walton and explained to him that the county doesn’t issue a contract in this case, but makes a rental agreement for anyone who wants to rent the fairground facility and that Walton would be more than welcomed to rent the facility once clearance is given to do so. Estes added that he doesn’t have any authority to discount the rental rate and that he would not recommend the rental rate be discounted, which is what the county did when the fair was brought back. “The folks that had it before offered a lot of promises that I don’t feel like were fulfilled, not that I had any issue with the way they ran the fair,” Estes said. “I thought they did a great job and a lot of folks had a good time. We didn’t have very many issues at all, but the promises that were made on upgrades to the facility were very, very minimal.” Estes added that he is in favor of anyone renting the facility, including Mr. Walton, but that they should rent it at the current rental rate. “If any discounts are given, that would have to come from you, the Board of Commissioners,” Estes said.

Walton replied that he would like to bring the fair back to Sumter County so that the youth of the county would have something to do, just like he did when he was a young person. “I was a youth in Sumter County and I saw first hand what an idle mind will do,” Walton said. “We want to start there with what we can do as far as getting things going and what we promise to do. That’s why I ask for a contract so you’ll have what I say I’ll do in writing.” Walton added that he is willing to rent the fairgrounds at the current rental rate in order to make it happen and that he will follow all county policies. Estes added that his past dealings with Mr. Walton have been good and professional. He also stated that the SCPRD has been involved in doing some significant upgrades to the fairgrounds.

Board Chairman Waddell replied that the fairgrounds is currently not open to be rented and until the county gets to that point, the county cannot enter into an agreement with Mr. Walton on the fair. Waddell went on to say that in his mind, the main question is does the county stay at the current rental rate, or allow for a discounted rental rate. “I would rather for me, just to be consistent with anybody else that rents it is to stay at that same rate,” Waddell said. No agreement was voted on by the BOC concerning Mr. Walton and the fair, but Waddell asked Walton to get with Estes to go over all of the particulars so that when the time comes, an agreement concerning the fair can be finalized and voted on.

In other news from the work session, the BOC approved the Digital Geographic Data Sharing Agreement with the City of Americus. According to County Attorney Kimberly Reid, this is a licensing agreement that the county and the City of Americus have shared for years and it involves the county sharing its Geographic Information System (GIS) data with Americus and the county benefiting from the mutual use of data from its other municipalities. “The agreement does specify the different responsibilities on both sides in terms of everything from reporting if there were to be an error in data discovered to laying out procedures for third parties, for example, who might request certain data from the city that is ultimately data provided by the county,” Reid said. She added that she heard back from two county departments that looked at the agreement and approved it. “As of now, all of the county departments affected have approved it, as has Miss Jarvis (County Financial Director Janice Jarvis),” Reid said. She added that not all of the city officials have reviewed the agreement, but that it is ready for the BOC to take action on. Waddell asked for a motion for approval of the agreement. Commissioner Scott Roberson made a motion for approval and Commissioner Jesse Smith seconded the motion. The BOC voted and the approval passed unanimously.

The BOC also approved an agreement between itself and DeSwim, LLC. on behalf of the SCPRD to provide trained swimming instructers. SCPRD Director Tim Estes told the BOC that this agreement is basically the same agreement that the SCPRD has had with DeSwim, with the exception of a change in the amount of the first check. Estes added that the SCPRD has contracted with DeSwim, LLC to provide swimming instructors to do swim lessons, which are done at the indoor pool on the Georgia Southwestern State University campus. “Wen we originally did this agreement five or six years ago, we based the first check that we gave them on 15 people being instructors at a $7.25 an hour rate and then two supervisors of those people at a $10 an hour rate,” Estes said. “Now we couldn’t in the contract say, ‘this is so you can pay your people’. So we just had to do it as a lump sum a month.” Estes went on to say that DeSwim’s director, Tim DeMott, contacted him earlier in the year and told him that he didn’t think that he could get people to come and work at those wages. Estes told the BOC that he decided to take a look at what the SCPRD pays its employees on average, such as lifeguards and pool managers. “What we proposed in this contract is in that first check, we’ve upped the amount of the lifeguards to what would be $10.07 an hour, which is what we pay our lifeguards in the afternoon, and then the two pools managers would be what their two supervisors would make and that’s a $12 an hour,” Estes said. “I don’t have that contract in front of me, but that first amount of money would be that lump sum of money that would cover all six weeks of swim lessons to Tim DeMott, so there is an increase over what we paid them last year.” Estes added that he believes that this change in the agreement will result in a $2,500 to $3,000.00 increase paid out to DeSwim, LLC.

Board Chairman Waddell asked for a motion to approve the agreement. Commissioner Roberson made a motion for approval and Commissioner William Reid seconded the motion. The BOC voted and the approval passed unanimously.