For a Fair Dutchess County Fair sign now

Do you think the Dutchess County Fair and Dutchess County Agricultural Society should be sharing more of the revenues they receive (from many events held throughout the year at the Fairgrounds) with Village and Town of Rhinebeck residents?

Fact: According to the August 24th article below from the Dutchess Beat (formerly Weekly Beat), "according to the town assessor the society hasnt even had to file a standard application for an exemption, a 19-page document delving into activities and finances to determine exemption eligibility."

For this reason I have already been in contact with NYS Comptroller's Office; they have suggested contacting Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office and the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance; I'm following up with them on this-- your support in at least a thorough and serious look into this matter with a comment on this online petition appreciated (pass it on).

Joel Tyner
County Legislator
Clinton/Rhinebeck
324 Browns Pond Road
Staatsburg, NY 12580
[email protected]
(845) 876-2488

[Fact: I do love the Dutchess County Fair-- I've been a big fan for over three decades, attending it faithfully since I moved to the Town of Clinton in 1971 and started going to Bulkeley Middle School and then Rhinebeck High School (I even enjoyed parking cars at the Fair for several years in the late 80's)...I just think (as many others do, especially after reading the article below recently printed in a local newspaper) that the Fair could find some way to share more of their revenues with local residents. The fact is that quite a few Rhinebeck residents have asked that I look into this; they have expressed understandable concern that perhaps the many profitable businesses that take in so much money at events held at the Fairgrounds throughout the year could help contribute more in revenue (tax or otherwise) to local residents (given understandable concerns about increased traffic and noise).]

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From the August 24th Dutchess Beat (formerly Weekly Beat)...

[see archives at WeeklyBeat.com to see full article on Fair; below is pertinent excerpt]

"A Closer Eye on the Fair: Dutchess Countys Annual Colossus Weathers Big Changes, Growing Criticism"

By Steve Hopkins

"The Dutchess Fair is already the top county exposition in the state, and is second only to the massive New York State Fair in Syracuse as an agriculturally-based attraction. The reported income amount (which is really tantamount to net profit, even though that term isnt kosher in nonprofit-speak) on its federal Form 990 tax return last year was $3,149,964. That figure includes income from other events as well, such as various antiques and crafts fairs, which is not itemized. The same form lists the fairs reported 2006 assets as $7,063,608.

Tax-exempt Benjamins

Three million bucks as profit on what could be a combined take of anything from $6 million to more than $30 million from the fair alone seems a bit low to seasoned fair-watchers, who talk darkly of lavish annual trips to Las Vegas and gifts of brand-new automobiles to board members during the 27-year Odak period. That suspicion, coupled with the Vatican-like secrecy and tax-exempt status of the Ag Society, a 501(c)(5) labor, agricultural, and horticultural organization, has fueled a minor local backlash to the fair in recent years, which shows signs of growth.

Politically, the societys board is loaded with Republicans; in fact its current president, Andy Imperati, is chairman of the Hyde Park GOP. The Town of Rhinebeck, meanwhile, has fallen at least temporarily into Democratic Party hands, and they are getting nosy, as well as noisy. The unofficial party news organ, something called The Demogram, has run a number of articles and letters taking the Ag Society to task. Those who attend the Dutchess County Fair should realize that the fairgrounds owner, the Dutchess County Agricultural Society, pays no property or school taxes, even though it appears to be involved in profitable activities, wrote one Greg Da Sylva in a published missive. Research indicates that, though it contributes to local charities, these are small contributions compared to the taxes it would pay were it not tax-exempt. Indeed, its 2003 tax bills would have totaled almost $137,000, which would have helped to pay for the considerable police, fire, emergency and other local services benefiting it.

Da Sylva hauls out old Section 450 of state Real Property Tax Law to make the point that agricultural society property is not tax-exempt if it is used for any non-agricultural purpose. The fairgrounds hosts car shows, swap meets, antique, crafts and machinery shows, and an Indian festival, most with admission fees, yet it continues to enjoy a total exemption. More surprisingly, according to the town assessor the society hasnt even had to file a standard application for an exemption, a 19-page document delving into activities and finances to determine exemption eligibility. Rather, the fairgrounds exemption is based solely on a verbal opinion from the state Association of Towns. So not only is the Agricultural Society tax-exempt, it is apparently exempt from going through the standard procedures for obtaining an exemption.

Well take Mr. Da Sylvas word for it for the time being, but will be looking into the matter ourselves not too far down the road. At any rate, in his letter he calls on the Ag Society to give the public the benefit of its response, something that presumably has not been forthcoming.

The editors of The Demogram, meanwhile, subscribe to a slightly more balanced, though still somewhat jaundiced view of fair operations. Feelings run high in the town and the village on this subject, they state. There are strong supporters and strong critics. On the plus side are tradition, tourism, temporary employment for teens and other residents, education (the 4-H exhibits are superior), and recreation (many villagers and town residents enjoy attending the fair, some on a yearly basis). How much local businesses benefit from the tourism is a matter of debate; some would say that if local business cant compete with fairgrounds events at the time of their occurrence, they benefit in the long run, because fairgrounds visitors will return to Rhinebeck. ... Also, throughout the year the village and town benefit from the existence of 140 well-maintained acres, serving as an effective buffer against over-development.

On the minus side, writes The Demogram, are strong complaints about traffic congestion, parking, noise, and even vandalism on streets between East Market and the fairgrounds. But these negatives are all due to that energized tourism and those 500,000-plus people who come during fair week. It can, and will be, argued by some that these are necessary evils. ... But there are additional and more serious criticisms; they concern the administration of the fairgrounds. Many residents feel that they are not only inconvenienced but shortchanged by its operation. In addition to the fairgrounds tax-exempt status, which is not well understood, there are suspicions that village, town, and county resources are used without proper reimbursement.

Under section 501(c)(5) of the federal tax code, labor, agricultural, and horticultural organizations are exempt from taxation if their general activities are educational or instructive, the purpose being to improve conditions of work, and to improve products and efficiency, write the editors, before citing the long and largely avoidable list of kitschy flea markets, craft fairs, car shows and folksy festivals that clutter the balance of the fairgrounds marketable year. How many of these satisfy the conditions sketched above? they ask. Three, four, at most, out of a total 14 events?

The editors go on to cite an Illinois court case too wildly circumspect to go into here, but you catch the drift. They conclude by asking a few more questions: Who serves on the governing board of the fairgrounds? What percentage of the board members are residents of Rhinebeck town and village? Are the books of the fairgrounds administration open to the public? Does the administration communicate frequently with the appropriate village, town and county authorities? Are these communications and/or meetings available to the public? What public resources are used throughout the year to support the fairgrounds activities? What remuneration, in the form of monies or services, is received for this support?...

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