The show must go on in West Virginia
Once this is over, we’re all going to need to blow off a little steam, relax — and celebrate. A good way to start would be to eat out at local restaurants every night for a couple of weeks, even if you’re in the habit of preparing dinner at home most of the time.
Then, what? Hint: Summer means fairs and festivals throughout the Northern Panhandle. There’s something for everyone, from Fort Henry Days at Oglebay Park to the Antique Power Show in Marshall County. There are county fairs in every county and Fourth of July celebrations everywhere.
Let’s hope there are, anyway. This year, there’s a problem.
Most special activities rely heavily on financial support from community-minded local businesses. Without it, some events simply aren’t feasible. And this year, many businesses are hurting because of the COVID-19 crisis.
We’re just at the beginning of it in West Virginia. Almost undoubtedly, some small businesses will lose so much money that they’ll go under. Others, even the big ones, aren’t going to have a lot of money to spare after the outbreak is beaten.
That means sponsorships will be cut back, perhaps eliminated.
That means special events will have to be cut back drastically — or not held at all this year.
Throughout the state, many special events — 40 in the Northern Panhandle, by my count — also rely on state funding. It comes through the Fairs and Festivals line item in the Division of Culture and History budget. For the fiscal year that begins July 1, more than $1.3 million is earmarked for scores of special events.
There’s a problem there, too: Fairs and festivals funding comes from the West Virginia Lottery Commission’s net profits. They are going to be way, way down this year, also because of COVID-19.
For that matter, the state budget as a whole is in trouble. Yes, blame the coronavirus again.
No matter how desperate they are to keep the budget balanced, Justice and lawmakers should not raid the fairs and festivals line item.
But, you argue, state government has pressing, serious needs. Fairs and festivals funding is for, well, frivolity.
Precisely. A little carefree fun is important to us all. That will be especially true after we deal with the strain of the pandemic.
Federal officials promise to help state governments deal with budget gaps created by the virus. How much? We don’t know. But if West Virginia gets lucky, Justice and legislators may want to think about increasing fairs and festivals funding, to help make up for lost private sponsorship support.
This year, more than most, it’s important that in West Virginia, the show must go on.
— Myer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org