Every night this week, Bulloch County sheriff's deputies will be highly visible at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, helping make sure visitors stay safe and out of trouble. If they are directing traffic, they are on the taxpayers' dime — but if they are working security, the Statesboro Kiwanis Club reimburses them for their time.
The partnership between the Statesboro Kiwanis Club, which hosts the annual fair that serves as a fundraiser, and the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office has been a tradition for many years. As the fair grows, the partnership becomes even more necessary, said Bulloch County sheriff's Chief Deputy Bill Black.
People from all across the region flock to Statesboro during Fair Week, and sometimes there are those who don't follow the rules and cause conflicts, he said.
Deputies patrol the midway and parking lots to help deter arguments and crimes, and some brave thousands of anxious drivers eager to find their ways into the fairground parking lots.
Last year, the Statesboro Kiwanis Club paid off-duty deputies more than $18,000 to provide security for all six nights of the fair, he said.
The security doesn't cost taxpayers at all.
"The Kiwanis Club wrote the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office a check for $18,361.50" to reimburse hours paid to deputies working the fair, he said.
However, the traffic control isn't funded by the Kiwanis Club. Since "it is a state highway," sheriff's deputies directing traffic are on the clock just as they would be if they were directing traffic at any other event — "like Player's Ball, when it happened," Black said.
Player's Ball was a gigantic block-party-style, informally organized gathering with thousands of out-of-town visitors crowding around the Georgia Southern University campus. It was called Player's Ball because it originated at a Georgia Avenue apartment complex then called Player's Club.
The event was held for several years, and since a lot of the traffic was in the county jurisdiction, deputies were called to help. Black said it is the same as when Bulloch County hosts the annual Fourth of July event at Mill Creek or when there is any large gathering that requires traffic control.
Each night of the fair, about six deputies are stationed on Highway 67 to help keep the lines of cars flowing smoothly. Sometimes traffic is backed up for over a mile each way, and people trying to pass through the fair traffic sometimes find it difficult, Black said.
On the weekend, more deputies help out and are on regular payroll, and some overtime, he said.
Taxpayers attend fair
While some may question tax dollars paying deputies for a fundraiser (the Statesboro Kiwanis Club filters proceeds back into the community throughout the year by giving donations to various charities and entities), club member Ashlee Corbin points out that keeping the fair a safe, family-friendly event is a service to taxpayers by deterring crime and discouraging fights, drugs and other conflicts.
"The sheriff's department is not donating time and attention to our cause," she said. "They are using their resources and time to protect the citizens of this county and other counties that will be visiting the fair this week. The Kiwanis Club will be compensating the deputies and the department for their time — time spent protecting … taxpayers."
In the past several years, deputies have broken up fights, arrested drug offenders, located wanted persons and caught people trying to break into vehicles.
While Kiwanis members also provide security, having uniformed (and plain-clothed) deputies on site is a huge deterrent to trouble, Corbin said.
The fair has traditionally been a safe environment, but the club wants to keep it that way. Last year, at a Savannah fair, there were stabbings and other violence. That is unwelcome in Statesboro.
"As a taxpayer and a Kiwanian, I would much rather have some of the dollars I pay dedicated to keeping myself and the fair patrons safe than not," she said. "One of the main purposes of the sheriff's department is to protect the well-being of the community they serve by monitoring traffic and maintaining a presence at one of the largest events in the area. I would say that they are fulfilling their duty."
Black agreed, stating that the fair is a much safer environment with law enforcement present.
Traffic will be congested
People driving to the fair this week are asked to be patient and follow rules.
On the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office Facebook page, Sheriff Noel Brown asks that people show respect and understanding. He did not immediately return messages seeking further comment on the office's role in the fair.
"Every year the Sheriff's Office is tasked with directing traffic at the entrance to the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair. This is no easy task with the only entrance and exit being off of State Route 67," he said in the Facebook statement.
"In an effort to help this process, we are reaching out to the public for both your understanding and patience."
People not going to the fair are asked to find an alternate route, if possible, by using Harville Road, Pretoria Rushing/Rushing roads, Highway 80 East and Highway 301 South.
"Please try to avoid this area during peak afternoon hours from 5 p.m. to10 p.m., or expect possible extended wait times," he said.
For those going to the fair, "both the center turn lane and the left lane will be used to access the fair. Please use either lane, as they will run simultaneously into the parking lot. The right lane will be used for thru traffic going southbound," he said.
Coming in from the other way will be a bit different.
"Unfortunately, if you are traveling toward Statesboro, there is only a single lane at the entrance to the fair, and you will be at the mercy of the amount of traffic present," Brown said. "With the vast amount of traffic coming from Statesboro, northbound traffic will have longer wait times so as to not back traffic up into Statesboro, causing traffic issues at the bypass."
Deputies will also assist with people leaving after the fair closes each night.
Orange traffic cones will divide the northbound lanes, and fair traffic will utilize the right lane to exit, while thru traffic will be forced into the left lane via the traffic cones, he said.
"As you approach the fairgrounds from the south, please slow down and watch for deputies and pedestrians."
He warned that people parking on private property across the highway from the fairgrounds are susceptible to be towed if the property owners choose to do so.
The Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, which serves seven counties — Tattnall, Candler, Bulloch, Evans, Screven, Jenkins and Bryan — opened Monday. It will run each night through Saturday. Gates open daily at 4 p.m., except Saturday, when gates open at 12:30 p.m.
The agricultural fair offers a midway with thrill rides and games, local food vendors, live entertainment nightly and agricultural and homemaking exhibits and displays.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.