The Erie County Agricultural Society doesn't charge Frontier and Hamburg school districts to use its event center for their annual graduation ceremonies.
But that doesn't mean it's free to the districts.
The subject of free rent came up after Town of Hamburg officials started talking about placing a surcharge on tickets and parking at the fairgrounds. Representatives from the town are to meet with fair officials Saturday to discuss the issue.
Fair Manager and CEO Jessica Underberg provided a list of seven ways the agricultural society helps the community.
One of them is allowing the two school districts in Hamburg to use the event center for graduation and dances "at no cost."
But Hamburg paid $5,300 earlier this year and Frontier was charged $6,400 for graduation.
"It's not at no cost," Frontier Superintendent Richard Hughes said.
But he added that the cost is not as much as the fairgrounds could charge the district.
"They’ve always charged us," Hamburg Superintendent Michael Cornell said. "They do give us a discount, which we appreciate."
Underberg said the fairgrounds does not charge the school districts $4,100 to rent the event center and $1,000 to rent the parking lot. But it does charge for items the fairgrounds has to rent, such as chairs, tables, stanchions, sound systems and decorating, at cost.
"What they pay for are things they request to have in the building that we do not have that we have to rent from somebody else," she said. "For instance, purple drapes. We don’t have purple drapes. We have black drapes and white drapes."
"I don't think we would be expected to eat those charges from outside third parties," said Michael A. Bolas, chief financial officer for the fairgrounds.
Frontier usually has about 350 graduates, with more than 2,000 guests.
"Our auditorium can't come close to holding that thing," Hughes said.
Cornell said Hamburg usually graduates about 315 seniors each year. He said commencement is a nice community event, and the fairgrounds is large and accessible.
"We don't have to limit tickets," Cornell said. "It's been a great partnership."