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Hopkinton State Fair Association loses $15,000 tax break after selectmen vote not to renew agreement

The Hopkinton State Fair Association isn’t being a good neighbor – and that cost the nonprofit a $15,000 tax break it has received from the town in years past, the selectmen have decided.

Under what’s called a PILOT agreement, the fair association has been paying the town $31,000 per year in lieu of taxes for the last seven years. According to minutes from a July 15 selectmen’s meeting, the assessed value of the fair association totals $1,555,300. Without this agreement, the association would be paying the town about $46,000 per year under the current tax rate.

That five-year agreement expired in 2011, and the fair association has continued to make the same payment the past two years while trying to renegotiate its tax contributions with the town.

When the Hopkinton Board of Selectmen revisited the issue Monday night, the fair association couldn’t persuade members to renew that agreement. The board voted unanimously against continuing that PILOT in 2014 – meaning the fair association will have to pay its full taxes this year.

Selectmen Chairman Jim O’Brien said the fair association met with the board this summer, hoping to renew its tax agreement and continue paying the same amount – no more, but also no less. But the town questioned whether the fair association, which is a nonprofit but operates like many local businesses, brings added benefit deserving of a tax benefit those businesses do not receive.

The board heard from a handful of residents during the meeting – and O’Brien said none of them felt the fair association should receive such a significant tax break.

“I think many people in the town didn’t feel at this point that there were enough benefits accrued to the town from the fair operations for the town’s taxpayers to be subsidizing the fair’s operations,” O’Brien said.

Hopkinton residents complained of less and less local connection between the fair and the town, O’Brien said.

He also said none of the members of the fair association’s board live in Hopkinton anymore.

“A lot of people in town who had direct involvement with the fair felt built-up – resentment, I think, isn’t the right word – but the feeling that things have changed, and not for the better,” O’Brien said.

George Saunderson, a member of the Hopkinton State Fair Association board, declined to comment. But O’Brien said the selectmen and members of the fair association board did come to one agreement – the fair’s board members need to up their communications with the town.

“I think right now there is a public relations problem that the fair has with the town of Hopkinton,” O’Brien said. “And I think the board is working with them to resolve that. I think it’s going to take a real structured dialogue to get over what are some pretty strong feelings from people in the town.”

Dan Houston, a longtime resident of Hopkinton, showed his family’s cattle at the fair when he was a teenager. Now 70, he attended Monday’s meeting to voice his concern about what he said is growing distance between the fair association and the town that has hosted the fair for almost 100 years.

“It’s been sort of a change in their attitude toward the town itself,” he said, “and we don’t see any indication up until this point that they really want to be part of the town and (be) cooperative with the town and do the good things of good citizens in this town.”

Houston remembers when most of the fair board members lived in town. Many, he said, were area farmers.

“They kept . . . very aligned with what the townsfolk were thinking,” he said. “In the past 10 or so years, the representation on the board certainly dwindled a lot.”

In years past, Houston said, the association used to allow much wider use of the fairgrounds. He once had permission to pass through the fairgrounds to volunteer at a neighboring baseball field, Houston said, but the board changed its locks and refused him access about five years ago. Now, he and other volunteers have to use a less-convenient route to the field.

And while the fairground opens for some public use, like high school cross country running and skiing or graduation, Houston said he feels the land should be more accessible as it was in years past.

“They lack goodwill toward the town,” he said.

Jacqueline Stock, a resident of Contoocook, said she attended the meeting as a concerned taxpayer, one who does not want to subsidize the fair’s operations.

“At some level, the community needs to benefit more from the fair association, whether it’s during the fair time or after, during the other 360 days, by them being better neighbors,” Stock said.

Stock is also a member of the Contoocook United Methodist Church, which hosted a food booth on the fairgrounds almost every year since the fair’s inception until 2011. Due to a dispute between the fair association and the church, that booth is no longer a part of the fair.

“There’s just a lack of concern for local involvement and local participation. . . . They have not necessarily been a good neighbor to the community,” Stock said.

O’Brien said the fair association and the town will now consider ways to engage each other more often, perhaps by inviting one of the selectmen to fair association board meetings.

“What really came out of the conversation we had was the real need for better lines of communication between the fair association and the town of Hopkinton and the board of selectmen. . . . We need to talk to each other, other than when we’re trying to negotiate a PILOT agreement,” O’Brien said.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

Legacy Comments14

Maybe this will get the attention of the Directors. This has always been the most expensive fair around, both for the attendees and the vendors. That's why the number of vendors was off by about 1/3 this year and Deerfield always pulls better numbers. The Hopkinton Fair needs to make nice on the town organizations and local businesses. Bring back the church food booths and give Dockham the rubbish business. I don't know who else they gave the bum's rush to, but you can't expect the locals to go to bat for the out-of-town Directors when the Fair gives their support to those from "away."

Back in the day the Director's were fully aware of the process of a fair. Each director ran his area, doing his or her part for the fair and it ran like a well oiled machine. Everyone was happy and could not wait till to plan next years fair. The Directors that did not live in town, were the ones that went to each and every meeting to solve these problems to insure things fell in place. The town had a vested interest in the fair , and while 10 days a year the town was crowded there was money being spent. A few of those great Directors have passed away or have faded it, their names and contributions barely spoken of in good light. Makes one wonder how they got it to run so well. Those faces are now being replaced by people who believe its money first and do not wish to have a healthy relationship, may come to tell if the fair will make it to it's to its 100th birthday. I watched this way of doing business first hand and I have carried on that knowledge in my work place. So sorry HSF didn't see this one coming, but you should be prepared for more. It's people working with people that make this "business" a success and put a smile on a child's face. Let's try not to forget that.

Poultry exhibitors were forbidden to sell their poultry--even to one another--except for birds they had exhibited. This happened years ago when one of the fair trustees walked by the poultry barn. Fall is the time people need to rearrange their flocks, selecting which birds they want to overwinter and which they want to acquire for spring. Here's what happened: people exhibited their birds. After the judging they pulled the original bird out of the cage and put in the bird they wanted to sell. The net effect was to completely undercut the purpose of exhibiting and judging, which is educational. Instead of seeing an example of a blue ribbon bird fairgoers saw whatever bird the owner needed to sell off to improve his/her flock. That's why I say this business of fair as business started a long time ago. What you're seeing now is the acceleration of that process. I have to say, my family were concessionaires. We went to many fairs. I exhibited tons of stuff over the years in fairs. I have never seen a town that hated their fair more than Hopkinton. Over the years I've come to understand why. The Hopkinton Fair simply is not part of the town.

Gone are the days when Hopkinton State Fair was a family fun fair. The last three years the fair began running the fair as a business and took out the friendly fair of old days. The town's services were appreciated and neighbors were neighbors. The Fair is now a business, they should pay taxes like the rest of the country. Isn't it great to be all grown up Hopkinton Fair?

The fair as a business actually started a long time ago, to the detriment of agricultural exhibitors. Apparently it's increased in the past few years.

Lets see; what does the fair bring to Town? An increased crime rate, folks with names like "Snakeyes" and "Frog" trying to burglarize the pharmacy by sneaking through the ceiling. There of course is an increase in beer sales at the stores but the empty cans are too heavy to carry down the roads the buyers are walking on. There is an increase in Traffic, and increase in general litter and an increase in noise. There is a lot more to list but why, we all know the Fair needs to be a better neighbor before they get any type of tax breaks, period

Next I'd like to see the take a look at the church camp which is basically running a business on Clement Pond. There is no benefit whatsoever to the town, much less than the fairgrounds.

More taxes more taxes more taxes - when is enough for progressives

sail, I'm confused by your response. Are you saying people should be avoiding the taxes the rest of us pay as they run a business under the guise of a nonprofit? That seems to be what you're saying and that makes no sense to me. Either that or you're simply making a knee jerk response that has nothing to do with my original comment. Which had to do with benefit to the town, either in cold cash or services. Please elucidate.

For the wealthy town of Hopkinton to shake down the Fair for $15,000 when it just gave a farmer $800,000 for a worthless conservation easement is the tax and spend ways of the elite liberals. Remember the $1 Million Senior Center that we voted down 3 times - what next - already got a new highway garage - Maybe a new fire station, new town Hall, new School? when is enough...enough?

Excellent response by the town. This is a perfect example of the present day "business" mentality across this country. Maximum profits, Period. Now if we can get the same response from citizens, Congress and State lawmakers about companies that send/sent jobs outside the US we may stand a chance to rebuild.

yippee ...more money for the tax thirsty elite liberal enclave of the Republic of Hopkinton - the home of the biggest limousine liberal Annie Kuster

You're right sail, time to get rid of the property tax and enact an income and sales tax... or is that a "sails" tax...

an income ans sales tax is more proof of the old addage " a liberal fool and his money will soon be parted"

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