Looking for advice from new Benton County fairgrounds advisory board

The Benton County Fairgrounds is the largest public facility in the region. It's versatile. And it's an asset to the community.

For one week out of the year, it's home to the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo. During the other 51 weeks, a variety of shows and activities are scheduled at the fairground -- about 50 a year.

This past week brought a big Christmas craft show. But there also are equestrian events, weddings and more.

The Benton County commissioners made a good move in initiating a citizen advisory board for the fairgrounds.

Because of the diverse ways the fairgrounds serve the community -- and the potential for so much more -- it's good to get a variety of input.

Someone in the horse world is going to have a different perspective than a caterer. Both insights are valuable.

So, if we were creating a job description for the new board members, we would encourage them to pool their collective wisdom in ways that will bring value to the fairgrounds, and by extension, the Mid-Columbia.

"Value," of course, often includes a monetary reward, but there is more to it than that.

Value also comes from meeting the needs of the community and from increasing the number of reasons for visitors to come to the Tri-Cities.

Value is closing gaps in available services and venues. Value is presenting creative solutions to current problems and creating opportunities for a broad reach of community interests.

We understand that public facilities often need a little help from the taxpayer but that isn't always true.

A couple of years ago, there was some talk about selling the fairgrounds to the nonprofit organization that runs the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo. (Full disclosure: The fair manager is a member of this editorial board.)

In 2010, the fairgrounds was costing the county about $70,000 a year. (In comparison, the TRAC facility costs taxpayers about $400,000 a year.)

We supported the idea of an open decision-making process with various stakeholders and interested community groups -- not unlike the composition of the new advisory board.

At that time, the fair board thought it would be able to operate the fairgrounds in the black. Although $70,000 is not a huge sum the taxpayers kick into the pot, turning a profit would be preferable.

We expect the new advisory board to provide recommendations that increase efficiencies at the fairgrounds, while still meeting the community's needs.

Its deliberations should include a hard look at anything preventing the facility from reaching its full potential and include specific recommendations for overcoming any obstacles identified.

Above all, no sacred cows. Board members have a great opportunity to be the catalyst for significant improvements, but only if they dig deep to identify problems and bring them to light.

An effective advisory board is often a wellspring of good ideas. Congratulations to county commissioners for taking a big step in creating the panel.

Now, the county must make sure the board has the resources it needs to produce meaningful results, then take its recommendations seriously.