Everybody loves a county fair, but all those fun and games can add up to big losses for the counties that host them. A study by the Orange County Register examined 70 California county fairs and found that, although they took in a total of $363.2 million in 2014, exactly half operated in the red, losing more money than they took in.
A state report in 2010 found that $2.85 billion in spending, created 25,000 jobs and paid out $856 million in wages. But some fairs generate more revenue than others. The Los Angeles County Fair spent nearly 2 million more than it generated. A spokesperson for the county said that the losses do not accurately reflect the fair’s cash flow, which includes the value of long-term investments and other non-cash items. When those items are included, L.A. County Fair’s $3.4 million deficit becomes a $3 million surplus, according to the spokesperson.
But even with all those non-cash items, executive pay is a huge loss for the L.A. County Fair. Former chief executive James Henwood Jr. took home more than $1 million in salary, bonuses and benefits, according to the fair’s tax returns. The president and CEO of L.A.’s Children’s Hospital made less last year, $823,667, running an operation 10 times larger and employing 4,000 more employees.
Henwood resigned his position in January, and the state launched an audit of the fair’s budget which is due to be released in autumn. San Diego and Orange County boasted comparable pay for top executives. Of the top 25 best-paid fair and expo employees in 2013, San Diego employed 11 and Orange County employed seven.
In 2014, Orange County’s top manager earned $212,070 while San Diego’s top executive earned $198,491. Riverside’s executive earned $146,150 and San Bernardino’s earned just under $100,000. No matter whether county fairs perform well or poorly, executives get paid the same salaries. Riverside County dedicated 38.5% of its spending on administration costs like executive compensation. In San Diego, it was 38.2% of the fair’s budget. L.A. County spent 28% of its budget on administration.
Next up on the red list were fairs in Sonoma County, which lost $1.5 million, and Riverside County, which lost more than $550,000 in 2014.
Fortunately, even with administration costs, the Orange County Fair took in the most money, earning nearly $10 million more than it spent in 2014. Next up was the San Diego Fair, which earned $5.6 million more than it spent. San Bernardino County just broke even, earning $33,000 more than it spent. Orange County and Riverside Counties took in more than half their revenue from ticket sales and concessions, wile L.A. and San Diego earned most of their money from non-fair sources, but still ended the year with a nearly $2 million deficit.
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(all data current as of 5/25/2017)
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