Legal woes end Upshur County Fair

ROCK CAVE – After 28 years in the Rock Cave community, the Upshur County Fair has officially been discontinued after officials discovered the annual event had been operating illegally for the past five years.

Upshur County Fair Board President David Taylor, who took over as president of the organization this winter, said the Upshur County Fair board has “pulled the plug and immediately ceased operations” after he found the fair’s license to operate as a non-profit corporation was revoked on Dec. 1, 2008, for failure to file annual reports.

“Despite the legal snafu, which caught everyone by surprise, the fair had been on extended life-support over the past several years anyway,” Taylor said in a press release. “The decision to pull the plug and let it die was an excruciating decision, but one I had to make for many reasons.”

In a telephone interview with The Inter-Mountain, Taylor said he was uncertain as to whether or not there will be any legal consequences to running the fair the past five years after the license had been revoked.

“I have heard that it is a common occurrence for non-profits across the state to inadvertently let their license lapse, so we’re not the only one that’s ever happened to,” Taylor said.

Upshur County Commission President J.C. Raffety said this week he was saddened by the fair’s closing.

“It is very unfortunate that the Upshur County Fair has been discontinued,” Raffety said.

“During the past 28 years, it has provided the opportunity for family and friends to enjoy a festive occasion showcasing local talent, food and crafts. It also has provided an opportunity for Rock Cave to take center stage as an increasingly important community within Upshur County.”

Taylor said a letter addressed to the fair board from the Upshur County Commission states the county could not contribute funds to the event in the upcoming fiscal year.

Raffety said events like the fair are referred to by the Commission as “quality of life programs.”

“It is the budget,” Raffety said. “We’ve unfortunately had to discontinue funding certain other quality of life programs which we are reluctant to do. It’s unfortunate.”

“This disappointment is countered in that Upshur County and surrounding residents can look with eager anticipation to the forthcoming barbeque and live music festivities scheduled for July,” Raffety said.

In lieu of the Upshur County Fair, plans are in the works for a barbeque and live music event to take place on the same weekend, July 18-19.

“We did not want the community to go without an event for the summer, and that’s what came from it,” Taylor said. Banks District Fire Chief Gary Bonnett and Sharon Bonnett have been instrumental in helping to make the barbeque and music event possible, he said.

Taylor said the Fair’s board of directors did attempt to keep the event going after the discovery of the revoked license. Taylor said while the fair was in transition of administrative roles, he submitted a query with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office and found the last annual report for the far was filed on April 24, 2007.

Taylor said the board then attempted to reactivate the legal standing of the Upshur County Fair, but were not successful. The board was advised by the Secretary of State’s office that more than two years had passed since the license was revoked. To obtain the license again, the fair would have to apply for a new one.

“This is a simple lapse that happened over five years ago, which has negatively impacted the organization this year,” Taylor said in the press release. “We earnestly tried to have the license re-instated, but unfortunately, we did not succeed and therefore we can no longer continue. I am not into the blame game. Hey, it happened, so let’s move on.”

Taylor said the board members met and expressed “somber concerns about continuing forward as an organization.” He added it was the remaining board members’ consensus to end the fair.

The legal issue, Taylor said, was the most “urgent” reason to end all operations, but he also told The Inter-Mountain this wasn’t the first year the decision to close the fair had been under consideration.

“Early spring of 2013, the fair board sent out approximately 800-plus letters to every Upshur business address that we acquired from the Division of Business Licensing of the West Virginia Secretary of State asking for donations and also inviting anyone to volunteer their time to help the Upshur County Fair grow with more events,” Taylor said in an e-mail to The Inter-Mountain.

“We could only raise a few thousand dollars and not one person ever called us or wrote us saying they were willing to volunteer their time to work with the fair. We knew we were in trouble then.”

For last year’s event, Taylor said the fair received funding from the state Division of Tourism’s Parks, Fairs and Festivals board and the Upshur County Commission, and some donations through the board’s efforts to reach out to businesses. Although the decision to close the fair was on the table, there were enough funds to operate last summer, he said.

“When all was said and done, we were maybe a couple hundred dollars from being in the red,” Taylor said. “That’s how tight it was last year.”

Taylor said some members, discouraged by the struggling resources and dwindling attendance of the fair, left the fair board and only two new members have joined.

Some recent fair board meetings were only attended by two members, Taylor said. The fair board is comprised of eight members, but over the past few months a quorum of seven members could not be reached at the board’s monthly meetings, he said.

“It’s really sad. It’s not just us, but it’s fairs and festivals across the country that’s being hurt by a struggling economy and the lack of people wanting to volunteer,” Taylor said.