OTTUMWA — Iowa law could mean there’s a lot more to the 4-H proposal for Ottumwa Park than meets the eye.

The proposed 28E agreement defines the Expo as a fair, which under Iowa law has specific implications. Iowa defines a fair as “an organization which is incorporated under the laws of this state, including a county or district fair or as an agricultural society, for the purpose of conducting a fair event.” Several stipulations, all of which must be met, are tacked on. One of those stipulations is that the organization “owns or leases at least ten acres of fairgrounds.”

That’s more territory than just the 120-foot by 300-foot building at the center of the debate.

The parks board recently sent the 28E agreement to the city council on a 3-1 vote. Chairman Bob Beisch, who voted against the agreement, said Monday it was finished before the parks board even saw it.

“There was no negotiation to develop that document with anyone on the parks board,” Beisch said.

The agreement is on Tuesday afternoon’s council agenda. Some have read the Expo’s push to be defined as a fair as a move to usurp the Wapello County Fair in Eldon. The executive vice president of the Association of Iowa Fairs said Monday the Wapello County Fair will not lose its status, regardless of how the Expo is defined.

“There’s [no impact] whatsoever. They’re members in good standing,” said Thomas Barnes. “The action we’re talking about here will not impact the Eldon fair.”

The Expo and the Wapello County Fair split acrimoniously several years ago. Occasional negotiations on reconciliation have not generated a settlement. Most elected officials have voiced a preference for reconciliation, though they do not generally push the issue.

Other questions are emerging about the Expo’s finances and whether it will remain part of the AIF. In a letter dated Oct. 10, Barnes questioned the Expo’s handling of state funds.

Fairs receive funds from the state through the AIF. Money from the state is earmarked for infrastructure only. The AIF is not satisfied that the Expo has segregated the money it received from the state, an estimated $62,000 dating back to 1999, to prevent its use for other items.

According to the AIF, the state money must be in a separate infrastructure account. A general fund used for other expenditures does not suffice. The AIF wants verification that the Expo has taken that step.

Barnes said the association was loose with the rules over the past several years because of changes made to the Iowa code two years ago. The changes made the laws much more specific on what the fairs can spend money on and limited state funds to vertical infrstructure. Spending was previously limited to the broader category of capitol improvements.

Vertical infrastructure primarily covers buildings. Barnes said fairs had previously spent money on gates, mowers and other items that didn’t fall under capitol improvements, but that the limitations on spending weren’t rigorously enforced.

That is changing.

“We really need these funds to be used as the general assembly means them to be used,” Barnes said.

Barnes met with Don Swanson from the 4-H Expo in December. He said he was told then that the 28E agreement and details on funding would be sent to the AIF after the Expo’s January meeting. The AIF is still waiting.

Swanson and Wapello County Extension Council Chairman Ed McDowell did not return calls for comment by press time Monday.

The delay concerns Barnes. He said the association cannot risk state funding because a handful of fairs fail to comply with Iowa law.

“This year at our meeting we said there will be no exceptions,” Barnes said. “We’re jeopardizing 105 other fairs if things aren’t done according to Iowa code.”

The AIF is also seeking documents from the Expo detailing the arrangements for the sites used during the exhibition. Those documents include the 28E agreement with the city and copy of the agreement with Quincy Place Mall. The Expo displays static exhibits at the mall.

The Expo is up against a hard deadline. The AIF will terminate the Expo’s membership and the Expo will forfeit 2005 funding if the documents are not received by Nov. 15. Termination could also lead the AIF to request repayment of all state funds that have not been used.

Beisch referenced those the AIF letters in explaining his concerns. But they aren’t his major issues. He stressed that he isn’t opposed to the 4-H proposal itself, but he wants other steps taken before it or any of the other major proposals for using the parks becomes reality. In other words, Beisch wants a parks plan.

“I think a lot of this stuff may be needed. I’m just not sure at this point we want a cow barn in the park when we don’t have some kind of long-range plan,” Beisch said.

“We need a plan to do a plan. We need public input and we need input from the council.”

Matt Milner can be reached at (641) 683-5359 or via e-mail at mwmilner@mchsi.com.

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