It’s widely understood that pulling off a one-day art fair that attracts 40,000 to 50,000 people to Hillsboro each year would be impossible without the small army of volunteers that invest themselves in a wide range of supporting roles.
But there’s another source of assistance that is equally important—if sometimes taken for granted, according to Christy Wulf, director of the Hillsboro Arts & Crafts Fair.
“I have to honestly say that without the city (staff) we could not do this,” she said.
“We have a lot of volunteers out there who make the fair possible. But without the city’s help, it wouldn’t be the kind of event that people would come back to.”
Wulf’s list of city tasks is more than two pages long. It includes everything from delivering the information booth to the Chamber of Commerce office, to hanging numerous signs and banners, to setting up street barricades.
City staff even help set up and maintain the multiple portable restrooms that address the less glamorous needs of the visiting public.
And that list doesn’t include the more visible contributions of the police department and the ambulance crews that prepare themselves for almost any conceivable security, health and safety scenario.
Less than two months on the job, City Administrator Larry Paine is preparing for his first crafts fair. But he said he is familiar with the kind of behind-the-scenes assistance that massive people-events require. While employed at Baldwin City, he helped organize city staff for that town’s Maple Leaf Festival, which draws a comparable number of people as Hillsboro’s art fair.
Paine said one of the biggest, but largely unnoticed, tasks for a city is trash management. He said he is impressed with the plan Hillsboro’s team has developed.
“They’ve got a plan for moving trash out of the festival area to a place behind the dental clinic and a place behind Dale’s Supermarket,” Paine said.
“They have people collecting trash out of the barrels and moving it out. They’ve got people making sure the porta-potties are cleaned regularly and toilet paper restocked.
“Those are the things people expect to have happen, that need to be done—so who does it? Those are very important tasks, so we’re getting them done.”
To get the workflow organized, Wulf has met a couple of times with Paine and the heads of the city departments over the past several weeks.
Paine said in the week or two before the fair, city staff devoted “lots” of their daily work schedule to the event.
“It’s maybe 300 to 500 hours from various people in the course of their regular duties,” Paine estimated.
By in large, the city doesn’t have to pay overtime for the additional work; other tasks are simply put on hold.
“I would imagine there could be some (overtime), like with police because of the extra security issues and that sort of thing,” Paine said.
“As far as the city crews and the things they’re doing, I think they just do that as part of the regular work week that week. If something else happens that causes them to get away, then we’ll kick the overtime in.”
Even so, is it a good investment of public tax dollars for city staff to invest that kind of time in this kind of event?
“My standard answer would be this is the one opportunity the town has to show itself off,” Paine said. “If you don’t do a good job of preparing yourself to be spiffed, people will see Hillsboro as just another one of those little cranky rural towns that doesn’t care too much.
“It’s just like home,” he added. “When you have out-of-town guests coming to your house, what do you do? You clean, you mop, you vacuum, you dust. That’s not all that different from the things we do. We get things ready so people will have a good experience when they come to Hillsboro.”
Another positive factor is the economic return the fair generates for the city, Paine said.
“From the people I’ve been talking to, Arts & Crafts weekend is like Black Friday, related to Thanksgiving and the Christmas sales,” he said. “It’s one of the best retail days of the year, so they look forward to it.
“I guess there are some other folks who are not too excited about it. But there are some people who really depend upon the Arts & Crafts Fair to be the day that makes their business year successful.
“When you do that, you know those businesses are going to be open the following week, too. So it’s a way to make sure the businesses we depend upon are successful, that they make their budgets so they’re able to provide the services we need.
“Without that, who knows whether they’d be around?”
The city also benefits directly from the local sales tax that is collected from exhibitors. With one-day sales estimated in the $1 million range, the 1 percent the city would receive for streets and the new aquatic center amounts to $10,000.
“It may be one of the things that tips the scales for us,” Paine said. “The fact that we have people in town buying and contributing to the swimming pool is a good deal.
“That is one of the neat parts about it,” he added. “You’ve got a lot of people who are not normally residents of this town contributing to its quality of life.”
Paine said that’s something all residents should keep in mind, even those who aren’t fans of the fair.
“There are a lot of people who complain about Arts & Crafts weekend being so full of people that they go other places,” Paine said. “But the dollars (visitors) bring in sales tax keeps us from having a property tax levy increase in order to do the same thing.
“If (residents) want to go out of town, that’s fine. But we do need these Johns and Janes to come in with their fives, tens, or hundreds to make a deal here.”