Our view: A fair report

When Larimer County Board of County Commissioners convened a June 2011 work session to discuss continuing deficits at the county-owned and -managed The Ranch events complex, Public Works Division Director Marc Engemoen didn’t have good news.

At the time, the complex was on track to lose $500,000 for the third year in a row — blamed in part on a $50,000 loss from the county fair and $200,000 in annual debt payments for the McKee 4-H, Youth & Community Building.

The Ranch encompasses 250 acres and hosts the annual Larimer County Fair and Rodeo. The complex contains the highly visible Budweiser Events Center, several exhibition halls including the McKee 4-H building and acres and acres of parking lots. Over 2,000 events took place there in 2011.

The $4.3 million McKee 4-H building was built in 2006, almost three years after The Ranch was finished. Taxpayer-supported bonds covered the initial phase of The Ranch, but the county self-financed the McKee building. To pay for the project, the county borrowed $3 million from the Solid Waste Fund in 2007. The balance for the loan is $2 million today.

The issue facing the commissioners wasn’t whether The Ranch had enough cash on hand to cover the deficits, but whether there was enough money — reserves — being set aside for capital replacement. The buildings are relatively new, but stuff wears out and parking lots eventually need repaving.

Last June, Engemoen said that several solutions were in the pipeline to cut into the deficit, including an increase in event parking fees and an increase in a room surcharge paid by the Embassy Suites hotel. (The county receives a small share of net room rental amounts from the hotel.)

Other solutions? Well, Engemoen said, the county could ask for donations at the fair. Or refinance the bonds used to build the complex in the early 2000s. Or, his preference, just pay back the Solid Waste Fund and zero out the debt payments by using money from the county’s general fund.

Since last summer, there’s been some good news. The county was able to refinance The Ranch bonds in late 2011 and shaved $275,000 off the annual payments for the (original) long-term debt for the complex. And the best news of all is that The Ranch finished 2011 over $200,000 in the black.

The Ranch director Bob Herrfeldt credits the surplus on an increased number of events at the facility, including the late-summer Heavenfest event that attracted 33,000 people.

The Larimer County Fair has shown a remarkable turnaround, too, from a $208,000 loss in 2008 to a $4,600 loss in 2011. A cooperative effort by The Ranch staff, the Larimer County Cooperative Extension, the volunteer fair board and the volunteer rodeo board has boosted attendance from 36,000 in 2008 to 95,000 in 2011.

So the good news is that there’s more money to keep the facility in good repair. The bad news is that the McKee 4-H building debt is still dragging things down and an infusion from the general fund seems to be the most viable solution.

A tough choice for county commissioners given looming budget cuts. But ya gotta think that there’s some sense of relief considering things could be much worse.

Thanks this month to renewing subscribers Jeanne Kennedy, Imogene Hersh, Ken Jessen, Betty Swartz. Rodney Florin, Lana Olsson, Jennifer Lang and Dixie Gibbons.

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