As a May 3 vote draws closer, residents and property owners within the Elizabeth Park and Recreation District will be deciding whether or not to increase the district mill levy to make big changes to Casey Jones Park, at a total cost of about $45 million. Voters will decide whether to double the district mill levy from 2.466% to 4.932%, which would add around $88 to the annual property tax on a residence valued at $500,000.
The vote has caused quite a stir among residents, some of whom are excited for the prospect of new additions and improvements to the park, while others want Elizabeth to maintain its small-town atmosphere and don’t want increased taxes.
Elizabeth Stampede Board President Traci McClain is in the former camp. She encourages voters to support the mill levy increase, part of which would go toward a $9.7 million upgrade to the rodeo grounds and an event center. She argues that improvements to the rodeo arena would bring prosperity for rodeo culture and the Western way of life.
On March 23, McClain sat down with the Elbert County News at El Abuelo Family Restaurant in downtown Elizabeth to discuss what she feels are the benefits of improving the rodeo grounds at Casey Jones Park, where the Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo is held.
McClain started off with a brief history of the Elizabeth Stampede. Thirty-five years ago, around 1988, the Elizabeth Stampede was at a crossroads, she said. The rodeo wasn’t making a lot of money and the Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce thought that maybe maintaining the Elizabeth Stampede wasn’t worth it anymore. After significant discussion, leaders of the Elizabeth Stampede and the Town of Elizabeth decided that to keep rodeo alive in Elbert County, the Elizabeth Stampede needed to become sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
After becoming an official PRCA rodeo event, the Elizabeth Stampede grew quickly, with support from cowboys, the town and the community.
For decades, the rodeo was in the small-size rodeo market, winning best national small rodeo three years in a row. Within their circuit, the Elizabeth Stampede won best rodeo over 15 times. Recently, the rodeo moved into the medium category with a larger purse and more sponsorship. The Elizabeth Stampede is now among a substantial group of nationally recognized rodeos.
Rodeo is in competitive field
McClain says that now being in the medium market, the Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo needs to evolve so it can keep up with other national medium-sized rodeos and continue drawing sponsorship, support, big purses and name recognition.
“Right now, we’re working on our vision,” McClain said. “After COVID, we had a bit of a reset as an organization. 2020 was the first year that we ever canceled the rodeo. We didn’t know what it was going to be like coming back last year after two years of being away from the rodeo. Would we have community support? Would they come back? Would they brave the virus to come out to the rodeo?”
McClain continued: “People came back like crazy. They came back in a big way. It was a resounding yes to us that the community wanted the rodeo to stay and to thrive. Everyone from spectators to vendors to sponsors, we were booked for everything. We sold out. We’ve sold out before, but never this quickly.”
After the success of the 2021 Elizabeth Stampede, McClain and the Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo leadership began to brainstorm ways to improve the rodeo and keep bringing people back year after year while still maintaining the local feel.
“We’re in the planning stages right now. I don’t think it will ever be a Cheyenne or the big rodeos like that, and I’m not sure we would really want anyway. We want to maintain that `rodeo in the pines’ feel,” said McClain. “We like that feeling of a small community rodeo. We’ve heard that from our contestants, from our contractors, our spectators, and our community that that is what they like as well.”
McClain then expressed why she sees a need for the mill levy funding to progress with their vision for the rodeo. “In order to keep it rolling with the times and keep providing money for our contestants and have good purses, and keep up with inflation, we’ve got to find a way to pay for it,” explained McClain. “We have three streams of revenue: vendors, spectators buying tickets, and sponsors. Our sponsors have stepped up, they come back year after year and sell whatever they can sell.”
Improved grandstands planned
The biggest change in the rodeo grounds, according to McClain, would be the greatly improved seating and spectator capacity, as the plan calls for covered grandstands with a seating capacity of 3,500.
“We want to fill our grandstands as much as we can, but we’re turning people away. Lots of people are so disappointed that they can’t come to the rodeo because there just isn’t enough space,” said McClain. “Our number one complaint that we have is our bleachers. They are getting worn out, they’re peeling, they give people splinters. Every year we spend a boatload of money trying to repair them and keep them functioning. The bleachers are hand-me-downs from Estes Park Rodeo. We brought them down here and we’ve been taking care of them and babying them as much as we can. Maintaining them is our biggest expense from year to year.”
McClain explained that their hope is to have inclusive seating for people with handicaps and for people of size in the new covered grandstands. She also said that having covered seating will make the rodeo experience much more enjoyable, especially during the rainy summer.
“The rodeo has a great partnership with Parks and Rec,” McClain said. “They have been tremendous, and I think they’ve done a great job. They’re forward thinking and address community needs. As a mother raising children in this community, I appreciate all that they have done. From the baseball games to football, yoga in the pavilion, I think they’ve done a great job at thinking about the future. Their purchase of the Casey Jones property has been great. They’re really working hard to preserve the natural space. We just want to help support them. I think they are doing a great job at coming up with plans for the rec center and field house and thinking about the future and the community.”
McClain added: “We have our eye on the future of the rodeo and how it impacts our community. We are partnered together, we’ve sat in on the planning sessions with them, and we’re giving advice on the rodeo arena. We’re also working with our own contractor to come up with plans and estimates and so we hope that we can start building as soon as we can.”
More about the election
Voters who live in the Elizabeth Park & Recreation District, and Colorado residents who own property in the district, will cast their ballots in a May 3 election to decide whether to permanently double the portion of their property taxes that supports the park district.
The money would go toward a $45 million proposal to overhaul Casey Jones Park with a new rec center, improved rodeo grounds, event center and more. For the owner of a property valued at $500,000, the tax increase would be about $88 per year.
Ballots were mailed to registered voters on April 11. Three 24-hour ballot drop-off locations are available: One is at Elizabeth Town Hall, 151 S. Banner St. in Elizabeth; another is at Singing Hills Elizabeth Fire Station just north of County Road 166 at 41002 Firehouse St., southeast of Parker; and the third is at the Samuel Elbert Building at 440 Comanche St. in Kiowa. Ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on May 3 to be counted. Voters can also cast their ballots in person from April 25 through May 3 at the Elbert County Elections Office at 440 Comanche St. in Kiowa.
The ballot question reads as follows:
Elizabeth Park and Recreation District Ballot Issue 6
Operating Tax Increase (2.466 mills)
Shall Elizabeth Park and Recreation District taxes be increased $680,000 annually (for collection in calendar year 2023) or by such additional amounts raised annually thereafter by an additional ad valorem property tax mill levy imposed of up to 2.466 mills, resulting in a total district mill levy rate not to exceed 4.932 mills, (provided that the district’s total mill levy may be adjusted to offset revenue losses from refunds, abatements and changes to the percentage of actual valuation used to determine assessed valuation) to be used for the purpose of acquiring, constructing, equipping, operating, maintaining and renovating park and recreation properties, improvements and capital facilities, including making annual lease payments related to the same, and providing ongoing park and recreation services, including but not limited to:
• Constructing and equipping a new recreation center, which may include an aquatics center with beach-style entry, lap pool, water slides, hot tub, and a lazy river; gymnasium; fitness area; childcare area; restrooms; locker rooms; program / party room; and
• Improvements identified within the Casey Jones Park Master Plan.
And shall the district be authorized to collect, retain and spend all tax revenue collected from such total property tax rate as a voter-approved revenue change, offset and exception to the limits which would otherwise apply under TABOR (Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado Constitution) or any other law and as a waiver of the 5.5% limitation under section 29-1-301, C.R.S.?
Click here for a guide to find out whether your home or property is in the Elizabeth Park & Recreation District, which covers a large part of western Elbert County.
Click here for information about the park master plan and rec center proposed by the Elizabeth Park & Recreation District. About halfway down the page is a link to the full report.
Click here for Elbert County News coverage of the proposal focusing on the planned rodeo grounds improvements.