Johnson County Agricultural Association asks for money following embezzlement, missing funding deadline

The Johnson County Agricultural Association is asking the Board of Supervisors for support through its financial hardships to help sustain the county fair.


Jerod Ringwald

The Johnson County Fairground complex is seen in Iowa City on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

Isabelle Foland, News Reporter

The Johnson County Agricultural Association is seeking increased financial support from the Johnson County Board of Supervisors to sustain operations of the county’s fairgrounds.

Map by Ryan Hansen/The Daily Iowan

In the past two fiscal years, the supervisors cut the association’s funding from $103,000 in 2020 to $89,400 in 2022. In the current fiscal 2023, the association only received $52,000 due to miscommunication between the two groups.

Infographic by Jami Martin-Trainor/The Daily Iowan

The association also underwent a financial struggle after an employee embezzled around $62,000 from the fairground funds between 2018 and 2020.

These financial hardships led the association to request more support from the supervisors to help renovate old buildings and ensure it can continue to keep the fair, which takes place in July, free of charge. 

Agricultural Association Fairgrounds office manager Heather Johnson said the undercut in funding happened because a previous employee failed to submit the proper financial paperwork to the board in time. This deadline is outlined in the supervisors and association’s service agreement. 

“While it is frustrating, I personally understand that there’s nothing that the Board of Supervisors could have done at that point, but it was very gracious of them to find a way to get us the funding that we did get,” Johnson said. “But that was through more of a grant funding venue versus actual taxpayer dollars from the county budget.”

Supervisor Rod Sullivan said at a Sept. 22 meeting that he wants a list of what buildings at the fairgrounds presently need renovations and what buildings can wait so they can allocate funds appropriately.

“It would be really nice for us, probably for all your members, if you could put a list together with some priorities of, you know, this needs to be done in this building, this needs to be done in this building, and here’s our top priorities,” Sullivan said.

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Supervisor Jon Green said he wants to know if there have been measures taken by the association to prevent future embezzlements. The association said preventative measures were put in place, including cameras in the banking office and each check requiring two signatures.

Several supervisors also gave the association fundraising suggestions, including making the agricultural association membership fee annual instead of lifetime, along with charging organizations that utilize the fairground buildings more to rent the spaces out. 

Even though the association has had a tough time financially, Johnson said county residents should not be worried about the future of the fair.

“We’re not going to let the fair go away,” Johnson said. “We do have a lot of gracious volunteers that do offer monetary and in-kind donations, whether that be time or donating of hay bales, or coming in and cleaning, or just any sort of setup, teardown, I mean, you name it, anything that goes into the fair, we have a ton of volunteers.”

While the relationship between the association and the supervisors has deteriorated in recent years, Johnson said she felt this meeting was a step in the right direction to repair the funding issues.

“I think it was a very positive meeting. I took away a lot of hope from that meeting,” Johnson said. “I took away a lot of understanding that, you know, we just need to work together.”