PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota State Fair won’t be allowed to charge higher prices to get onto the grounds — at least not for this year’s fair.
A panel of state lawmakers blocked proposed increases Tuesday.
The State Fair Commission wanted to raise daily admission prices to $10 for people age 16 and older and $5 for ages 6 through 15.
Instead the costs will stay at $6 and $4.
Various increases proposed for passbooks and campers also won’t go ahead.
Senator Jean Hunhoff led the opposition. The Yankton Republican chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. She said the Legislature approved more than $721,000 of state general-fund support for the fair’s operations in the 2023 budget that starts July 1, but the fair’s leadership didn’t mention the proposed increases during the budget hearing earlier this year.
“If you’re going to look for an increase, we should see that in your budget for the coming year,” Hunhoff said.
Senator Timothy Johns, R-Lead, said the State Fair Commission had followed the rules-proposal process. “I understand what all the concerns are but I’m hesitant to revert it at this point,” the retired circuit judge said.
Representative Kevin Jensen, R-Canton, spoke against the increases. Jensen, a 4-H leader, focused on the campers and said many are 4-H families. He agreed that Johns was “probably right. But to me this is extremely troubling,” Jensen said. “It just seems like so much of this increase is falling on families that are already having a bad time.”
The Rules Review Committee voted 4-1 in favor of Hunhoff’s request to send the proposal back because it didn’t reflect the committee’s recommendations or objections.
She wants the state Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources to instead present the plan as part of its formal budget hearing in the 2023 legislative session and then start the rule-making process again. The fair is under the department.
Fair manager Peggy Besch said the commission and the state secretary of agriculture intended to move forward with increased prices in 2020 but set the plan aside because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Besch showed the lawmakers a chart listing various adult-admission prices for other state fairs. The amounts were Minnesota $17, Wisconsin $17, Iowa $14, Colorado $14, North Dakota $12, Nebraska $10, Kansas $10, Montana $9. Wyoming $8 and South Dakota $6. In South Dakota, the Sioux Empire Fair in Sioux Falls charges $10, while the Brown County Fair is free.
“Nobody likes to raise prices,” Besch said. She noted there are various discounts available and admission is free after 8 p.m. daily.
Commission chairman Faron Wahl of Sioux Falls said the State Fair would have gone financially broke decades ago without raising admission fees.
No one from the public spoke against the increases Tuesday. But the lawmakers found problems with the current proposal.
The higher prices were to take effect at this year’s fair that runs September 1-5, but most of the fair’s campers have already paid in advance and wouldn’t have seen increased fees until next year.
Besch acknowledged the fair doesn’t have a written business plan. She said a subcommittee worked on the proposed amounts but they weren’t based on any specific needs. The plan would have generated an estimated $280,000 more per year.
“We just settled on the 20 percent increase for adults and just a dollar increase for the youth,” Besch said.
“So it was not calculated just based on costs?” asked Senator Red Dawn Foster, D-Pine Ridge.
Replied Besch: “I guess I would say no. We looked at different fees and the revenue that it would generate. So I would say yes and no, depending how you looked at it.”