Ohio legislation updates laws for agricultural societies

By:Peggy Kirk Hall, Attorney and Director, Agricultural & Resource Law Program Monday, December 28th, 2020
Fair rides

Written by Jeffrey Lewis, Attorney, Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Ohio’s past fair season was mayhem thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some help is on the way.  The Ohio General Assembly passed legislation on December 22 aimed at updating laws and regulations governing agricultural societies and local county fairs.  Major highlights of the bill include increasing the amount that a county or independent agricultural society receives for operation expenses from a county, removing the cap on the amounts that a county may transfer to an agricultural society for junior club expenses associated with operating fairgrounds, and increasing the total amount of debt that a society may incur. Here’s a more detailed summary of the provisions contained within House Bill 665.

County payments to county or independent agricultural societies

For county and independent agricultural societies, H.B. 665 increases, from $800 to $1,600, the max amount that a county treasurer must annually transfer to a society operating within the county. The County Auditor is required to request that the County Treasurer make the transfer if: (1) the society held an annual fair; (2) the society has made an annual report to the Director of Agriculture concerning the fair; and (3) the Director presents a certificate to the County Auditor indicating that the society has complied with the applicable laws of Ohio.

H.B. 665 also removes the $500 cap on the annual amount that a Board of County Commissioners must reimburse an agricultural society for junior club expenses. Additionally, the $2,000 cap on the amount that a Board of Commissioners must annually appropriate to a county agricultural society has been removed, but only if the society: (1) owns or leases real estate used as a fairground; (2) has control and management of the lands and buildings on the fairground; and (3) requests an appropriation from the Board.

Debt authorization

H.B. 665 expands the total amount of debt that an agricultural society may incur. Under the new law, county and independent agricultural societies’ annual payments for debt obligations cannot exceed 25% of the prior three-year average of its annual revenue. However, a county agricultural society must obtain approval from the Board of County Commissioners prior to incurring any debt if the Board pays or has paid money out of the county treasury to purchase the society’s fairgrounds. 

Other notable provisions

  • H.B. 665 removes restrictions on how proceeds for beer/liquor sales are to be used.
  • Any county or independent agricultural society member can sell seasonal tickets or passes for the society’s annual fair and the sale need not be conducted on the premises of the fairgrounds.
  • Any property owned by an agricultural society is now tax exempt, so long as that property is “used in furtherance” of the society’s purposes.
  • Modernizes the manner in which a county agricultural society must publish its annual financial information.
  • If the Board of County Commissioners wish to sell or exchange the fairgrounds, the Board must notify the applicable agricultural society 14 days prior to the sale or exchange.

H.B. 665 modernizes Ohio fair laws and agricultural society laws, some of which have not been updated since the 1950s. Many of the provisions contained within H.B. 665 were set to help out local agricultural societies for the 2020 fair season, and thus many provisions expired on December 1, 2020. However, the modernization and updates to Ohio’s laws will hopefully make next year’s fair season that much better. H.B. 665 now awaits Governor DeWine’s signature.