Feb 16, 2016

Fee or free? County revising its ‘subjective’ rental rates at fairgrounds

County commissioners are trying to figure out who can use the Park County Fairgrounds for free and who has to pay.

Over two recent meetings, commissioners waived $2,830 worth of rental fees for nine upcoming events at the fairgrounds’ new exhibit hall.

There wasn’t a consistent pattern to the commissioners’ decisions: they waived all the fees for a nonprofit group of off-road vehicle enthusiasts, but required a $160 payment from another nonprofit that takes local youth camping, hiking, shooting and hunting; they also gave a discount to a farm equipment supplier to host a clinic on new products while declining to give one to a Home and Garden Expo put on by a Powell resident.

The Powell Medical Foundation's 2016 Mardi Gras fundraiser was one of the events for which commissioners waived the rental fees. Cody News Co. photo by Ilene Olson
As commissioners worked through nine recent requests, Commissioner Joe Tilden said the county needs to create a uniform policy on who qualifies for discounts, saying the process has been “subjective and not objective.”

“This is all new to us and we will get a set policy,” Commission Chairman Tim French pledged at the Feb. 2 meeting.

The county revised and generally raised its rental rates in September. That set the fee for the new exhibit hall and kitchen at $415 a day for a personal or non-profit event ($500 for commercial uses). Fees go up or down if more or less of the building is used.

When the daily rates were established, Events Coordinator Echo Renner said they were intended to help the county break even on its costs.

Commissioners granted several fee waivers since setting the rates — including blood drives, Powell school testing, the community Thanksgiving dinner, a clogging recital and a dance for people with disabilities — and gave a significant discount for the Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels roller derby team’s practices.

But the increased number of requests over the past month gave them pause.

For one thing, “are we going to charge a minimum fee, period, or not?” French asked at the commission’s Jan. 19 meeting, noting the county has fixed costs, like utilities.

“The community’s argument is, ‘our tax dollars paid for it’ — which is a good point,” he added.

A summary of the discounts given by commissioners.
Commissioner Loren Grosskopf wondered if perhaps some buildings, such as the nearby Bicentennial Hall, should be available to nonprofits for free, while other buildings have a charge.

“If it’s a community function like the Easter egg hunt (put on by Powell Elks), waive the fee. If it’s something where they can pass that on to the consumer ... like the price of their banquet ticket, then I say don’t waive the fee,” Tilden suggested, adding later that “the whole thing’s very difficult.”

The Powell Medical Foundation’s annual Mardi Gras fundraising banquet was one of four nonprofit events for which commissioners Tilden, Grosskopf and Lee Livingston voted to waive fees on Jan. 19. The others were a remote controlled car race being put on by the nonprofit Wyoming Sagebrush Hoppers, the Northwest Wyoming Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance’s annual meeting/fundraiser and the Elks Club’s annual community Easter egg hunt.

Tilden had offered to recuse himself on the Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance’s meeting since he (along with Grosskopf) are members, but French said abstaining was unnecessary since “you told everybody you’re a member of it.”

Commissioner Bucky Hall voted no on all four waivers the board considered last month. He had suggested a 50 percent discount.

“(O)ur goal is to get a policy that you (Renner) make the call on them unless it’s out of the norm ... so we aren’t going through this exercise,” said Commission Chairman Tim French.

At the Feb. 2 meeting, commissioners waived the fees for another race being put on by the Sagebrush Hoppers and gave them a discount for their annual meeting and gear swap (only charging the $160 fee for the kitchen); commissioners similarly voted to charge only for the kitchen on a fundraising banquet being put on by Polestar Outdoors, a group that takes youth into the outdoors.

The commission also gave a 50 percent ($300) discount to Heart Mountain Farm Supply. The business is putting on an educational clinic about (and selling) new precision farming tools that can improve producers’ efficiency.

Tilden opposed giving most of those breaks.

Later, Hall and Livingston agreed with him and rejected a discount for the 12th annual Home and Garden Expo.

“Someone is making money off this and I don’t think it’s right for the taxpayers of this county to subsidize a money-making event,” Tilden said.

Grosskopf — who dissented from the decision to charge full price — questioned how the expo was different from Heart Mountain Farm Supply’s clinic.

“Well, it’s not,” Tilden said. “That’s why I voted against that one, too.”

Park County Fair Board members used to decide when fees would be waived, but commissioners took over that responsibility when they reshuffled the fairgrounds’ management last year.

French said the commissioners now want to come with a policy and leave the decisions up to Renner, the events coordinator.

“There’s always going to be an exception at some point, but our goal is to get a policy that you (Renner) make the call on them unless it’s out of the norm ... so we aren’t going through this exercise,” French said.

1 comment:

  1. It appears that the county does not want any group to use the facilities that are paid for already by taxpayers' dollars. The ratio of people and groups who have that much money to spend on space rental compared with those who don't is pretty lopsided. Charge a reasonable deposit and give back 75% to the renter when the space is clean and in the same condition it was when the group got there. It is community area, paid for by community dollars and we the community should not have to pay more to use our own facility.

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