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Seeking to Save the Jeffco Fairgrounds

The threat of the closing of the Jeffco Fairgrounds came as quite a shock to the local community when it was announced mid-January that the County Commissioners had abruptly decided to close the entire facility in order to cut the budget. After what was described by opponents as “a sweeping override of existing County revenue limits that will result in a higher tax burden for Jeffco property owners and residents”, the admittedly (by proponents) poorly written Ballot Issue 1A to remove the restriction of TABOR (tax payer bill of rights), failed 55% to 45% at the ballot box last November.  Additional county budget cuts included $5 million for the Sheriff’s Office. 

For those unfamiliar, TABOR is an amendment to the Colorado Constitution passed by the voters in 1992. Among its many provisions, TABOR removed from the legislature (and all other levels of state government) the power to enact tax legislation. Instead, it requires any new tax measures to go to a vote of the people. The law also requires that any amount over collected be given back to the tax payers the following year after over collection. Jeffco hasn’t issued TABOR refunds for years, but has used excess tax revenues to reduce mill levies, lowering taxes in the process.

If Ballot Issue 1A had passed, taxpayers would have opted out of TABOR for seven years, allowing Jefferson County to raise property taxes which they presented as a means for the county to get out of debt. The TABOR refund would have gone toward the county budget which they calculate has a $12.5 million dollar budget shortfall.  The Jeffco Fairgrounds currently has $1.8 million dollars in annual operating costs and brings in about $450,000 in revenue. Many previous and current users of the fairgrounds site the high costs to rent the facilities as limiting factors to more use.

This discrepancy between income and operating cost is not unusual at many, if not all of our state’s fairgrounds. Is it a priority of a fairgrounds to be income producing?  Do any of our local parks, recreational fields for sports and open spaces turn a profit?  Of course not, they are there serving the community and the wildlife that call our area home.  Does Denver County look at Washington Park and decide the space and land could make more income for the county if they used the buildings for office space or use the land in ways that assure a profitable ledger?  Of course not, Wash Park is there for the pleasure of anyone who wants to enjoy it and the experience it offers. Our parks and fairgrounds are there for the enhancement of our state and our connection to nature.

One alternative to closing the facility has been to turn the upper area of the fairgrounds with the Event Center indoor arena, rodeo arena, and the Silver Spur outdoor arena over to Open Space to manage.  That is somewhat of a solution, but then there would be no stalls, educational buildings, exhibit halls, etc., to utilize alongside those spaces.  It would seem that the best solution to preserve the fairgrounds for all groups, would be to keep it whole. 

Jeffco Fairgrounds aerial from Denver.org

In response to the potential closing of the fairgrounds, a local group called Friends of the Jeffco Fairgrounds has formed.  Many dedicated people and like-minded organizations have come forward to share their stories and the history intertwining the Jefferson County Fairgrounds and their experiences at local county meetings. The fate of the fairgrounds may feel like a local and isolated issue, but it reflects a more national divide between the urban and rural settings.

Friends of the Fairgrounds seeks to have all groups represented that have utilized the resources at the fairgrounds in the past and present for not only agricultural purposes like 4-H, livestock events, equestrian events (including Westernaires); but also for dog events, gardeners, beekeepers, craft fairs, book fairs, the Jeffco Action Center, Rotary, emergency wildfire evacuation, and sports organizations among others. 

The goal of Friends of the Fairgrounds is to save the fairgrounds for all future generations to have facilities available for the purpose of learning about agriculture and to be an agricultural and equine recreation center for the county.  They plan to offset the operating costs that are not available to government agencies through grants, raised funds and sponsorships.

Friends of the Fairgrounds states:  Agriculture should be accessible to everyone. For some of us it is a livelihood, for others our recreation. For everyone there should be an opportunity for understanding where our food comes from.  Historically, across the country, County Fairgrounds serve as a hub for these activities and a gathering place for the community. This facility is also an essential location for animal and human evacuation in the event of a disaster. Yes, urbanization cannot be denied but neither can urban farming, youth opportunity, equestrian recreation, Colorado heritage and this amazing group of people. We cannot wait on a shifting demographic to consider our interests. Losing the fairgrounds will increase the urban/rural divide that much more.

The Friends of Jeffco Fairgrounds mission:

  1. Operate the facilities of the fairgrounds in Jefferson County, Colorado; easing the burden of county government
  2. Develop educated, open-minded, compassionate and competent youth
  3. Decrease the urban/rural divide
  4. Promote western heritage, accessible agriculture and equestrian activities

What can we do as Jeffco residents to help? 

  • Keep the momentum going to support the fairgrounds in front of the county and show our continued interest in keeping the fairgrounds whole and usable.
  • Show up to support any meetings.
  • Reach out to the County Commissioners to show your support of the fairgrounds and its value to the community.
  • Anyone with an interest in the fairgrounds needs to work together as one cohesive group. 
  • If you have legal expertise in non-profits and government or other skills that could be helpful, contact Friends of the Fairgrounds.

Emails for the County Commissioners:

Lizzy Szabo, [email protected]

Casey Tighe, [email protected]

Lindsey Dalkemper, [email protected]

Find Friends of the Fairgrounds on Facebook for the latest on meetings, information and contact information or email them at [email protected]  Heather McWilliams © 2020

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