Supporters are looking for options to save Jeffco Fairgrounds
Just over a year after Jefferson County Commissioners addressed the closure of the Jeffco Fairgrounds in response to budget cuts, the decades-old facility has reached what Jeffco County Manager Don Davis believes. be a sustainable level of service.
However, members of a new county council tasked with preserving the agricultural, equine and youth activities that the establishment has long hosted said it was at the expense of the establishment’s offering and left it in a long-term precarious position.
“The whole revenue part has to change somehow because it puts us in a stranglehold,” board member Lisa Stavig said of the state’s TABOR law provisions. which have the effect of drastically limiting the amount of money the county can spend on the fairgrounds without having to cut other programs. “They cut and cut to the bare bones, and there’s nothing else they can cut in there unless we shut down.
TABOR’s impact on the county’s operations and the fairgrounds came to the fore last year when County Director Don Davis announced the county would have to cut its budget by $ 12.5 million for 2021 to comply with a TABOR rule limiting the amount of county property tax revenue. can collect annually.
Adhering to this rule creates special challenges for the county when it comes to the fairgrounds, as any income generated there counts toward TABOR’s overall cap on the amount of revenue the county is able to raise. This meant that plans to simply increase the amount of revenue generated by the fairground would only force the county not to collect or repay tax revenue, without solving the budget problem, Davis repeatedly said.
Ultimately, the commissioners voted to approve the plan ordering county staff to maintain those aspects of the fairground facility and its operations that are most critical to preserving the agricultural, equine and youth activities that s take place there, while terminating activities that are not. support this goal.
A year later, the county managed to do just that, Davis said. However, he also said that means the fairground will have to offer much more limited programming than in the past with little scope for adding new programs.
Given the limits of this level of “sustainability,” Stavig and other members of the Youth, Equine and Agriculture activities council told commissioners on April 14 that the county should consider taking steps to allow at the exhibition center to increase its budget without affecting this TABOR cap. To that end, council members told commissioners in a presentation on April 14 that they had started looking for different possibilities to achieve this.
During the meeting, several possibilities were presented, including the creation of a special district to provide services to the fairground that would not be subject to the same TABOR restrictions as the county or the transformation of the fairground to an organization. non-profit that would operate the fairground.
Other possibilities include transforming the Jefferson County Fairgrounds into an open space, reducing costs by reducing landscaping and energy consumption, or creating advertising and sponsorship opportunities at the fairground. fair for companies that would generate more income.
However, board members recognized that many of these opportunities would present their own challenges. For example, the JCOS charter limits the use of the properties it manages, which would likely prevent it from taking over the entire exhibition center.
That’s why Stavig said the best solution might be to get back to voters with a voting measure that would remove TABOR’s cap on county revenue collection. In 2019, 54% of Jeffco voters voted against 1A, a voting measure that would have done just that.
“I think going back to the voters and saying we keep all the income on the fairground is probably the strongest and best thing we can do,” Stavig said, “because then that opens up and we can start looking to generate income. and that sort of thing.
While the board said all of the possibilities mentioned would likely require more research and examination, Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper said they represented “a good list of ideas for the future”.
However, she also warned that the situation at the fairgrounds is likely a harbinger of things to come for the county as it continues to navigate how to operate within TABOR’s boundaries.
“I think the stranglehold you talked about that your council is working on could be the story of other county departments,” she said. “These are issues that we will be examining in all areas in the years to come.”