The Jefferson County Commissioners will consider next month whether to shut down the county fairgrounds in Golden to save money as the county is faced with budget cuts. On Jan. 21, County Manager Don …
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The Jefferson County Commissioners will consider next month whether to shut down the county fairgrounds in Golden to save money as the county is faced with budget cuts.
On Jan. 21, County Manager Don Davis told the Jefferson County Fairgrounds Advisory Board and the large public crowd that the county, which needs to cut $12.5 million from its 2021 budget, could save about $1.8 million a year by shutting down the operation of the fairgrounds.
Closing the fairgrounds by early 2021 is being looked as a potential money saving measure, Davis said, because the county must focus on making sure it can maintain services related to things like public safety that “only government can provide.” Earlier this month, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office began releasing some inmates from the county jail before their sentences were complete because of those same budget issues. The Sheriff’s department has already closed a floor in the county jail at the start of the year due to financial constraints.
Davis further explained that he had previously instructed fairgrounds staff to look into ways the fairgrounds could increase the revenue it generates so that it could be turned into an enterprise that would generate 90 percent of its own revenue and allow it to be removed from the county’s general fund, which would allow the county to keep it open, but to no avail.
“Staff basically came up with a plan that would get us from the 28 percent cost recovery we are currently at to about 57 percent which is a great improvement but it doesn’t get us to 90 percent,” Davis said.
Davis said he will brief the commissioners on the possibilities of keeping the fairgrounds open, moving toward an enterprise fund without a clear plan for self-sustainability or closing the fairgrounds on Feb. 4., but said only the last of the three options seems like a realistic possibility given the cuts the county is facing and its other obligation.
Last November, Jeffco residents voted against Ballot Issue 1A, a tax measure that would have allowed the county a temporary exemption from taxing and spending limitations imposed by Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) law that would have allowed the county to increase property tax levels and avoid making the budget cuts.
“At a minimum we need to be able to do those essential services for you to make sure you are safe and the things you expect from your local government are done,” Davis said. “That also means we need to look at nonessential services as places for either reform, reduction and elimination.”
That message didn’t sit well with either the advisory committee or the large crowd of over 100 people that packed the fairgrounds’ Rocky Mountain Conference Room past its capacity on Jan. 21.
Loss of space, opportunities for youth
Many in that crowd, including advisory board chairman Mark Skelton, focused their comments on criticizing the wisdom of closing a facility that is the hub of so many opportunities for youth in Jeffco.
“The benefits of what (the fairgrounds) do for the youth in my mind as far as giving kids tools to say off the streets and in the prisons down the road is just as great as keeping the prison today,” Skelton said. “Maybe greater.”
In response, Davis said he “couldn’t agree more” about the value of the fairgrounds and said that value is why the county had gone to the taxpayers for 1A. He also noted that the county is not considering shutting down Westernaires, 4-H, CSU extension or any of the other programs that make us of the fairgrounds, although he did say those programs would be impacted by the closure of the fairgrounds as that is where many of those groups’ events are held.
Commenters also expressed concern about the potential impact the loss of the fairgrounds would have on livestock owners as the fairgrounds are the county’s site for evacuating livestock in the county during major emergencies. Davis responded that the county would need to find another option for evacuating such animals if the fairgrounds were sold.
Others criticized how the process was being handled by the county with Skelton telling Davis that he was disappointed that the advisory committee had only been told about the possibility of the closure days before the meeting and would only have about two weeks before the plan would be presented to the commissioners.
However, Davis said it was important to have the conversation now so the city could make a decision and either begin preparing the fairgrounds for closure or move onto other options for cuts. He said that the closure would need to happen in early 2021 for the savings to be made from the 2021 budget.
Other questions focused on the handling of the 1A ballot question.
“People don’t trust you with what you are doing with their money but if you would have said `hey we need money for the Jeffco fairgrounds you would have had it,’” one commenter said.
Many of the commenters also questioned what the county would plan to do with the fairgrounds after shuttering it.
Davis denied that the county had a plan for the fairgrounds but noted that the value of the property is somewhere between $12.5 million and $22.5 million and that selling the property could help the county address its budget shortfall. He said the city could also use the space for other county services as the county makes other changes to deal with the cuts.
However, he said he was willing to hear resident ideas for alternatives to closing the fairgrounds and thought the commissioners would be as well.
“I definitely am open for recommendations or answers,” he said.
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