Overruns zero out fair’s bank account

Expenses for music event, management blamed

Cost overruns and lack of financial oversight caused this year’s Montezuma County Fair to go $7,500 over budget, zeroing out its bank account.

Management problems and financial missteps by the fair board were revealed during a marathon presentation to the Montezuma County commission Monday.

Ironically, participation was up at this year’s fair, attracting 7,200 visitors compared with 4,500 last year. But bad luck, unexpected expenses, and poor turnout for paid events turned it into a financial crisis.

Dissension among board members had led to resignations and finger-pointing, much of it centered on the Cowboy Gathering of the Four Corners, organized by fair board president Todd King.

The fair’s first showcase music event was supposed to kick the fair up a notch by broadening its appeal beyond 4-H agriculture events. The Western music festival featured seven bands, including national acts by performers 3 Trails Knight and Krystin Harris.

The fair board budgeted $6,000 for the event, said fair board member Jay Lawrence, but when the final bill came in, it was a shock. He blamed King, the concert promoter, for spending an additional $6,000 for concert lighting and sound, without fair board approval.

“(King) went over budget considerably without board input,” Lawrence said. “We did not agree to pay more than the $6,000, and I feel the promoter should be responsible.”

King responded that he believed $4,000 for sound and lighting was approved by the board, “but it is not in the minutes” of the meeting.

He explained that a volunteer who agreed to conduct lighting and sound on a smaller daytime stage for the performers did not show up. King said his solution added to the total expenses.

“I asked the sound guy hired for the concert to do it, and he charged me $2,000, so that put me over budget,” King said. “It was a new event that had community support, but it did not turn out as we had hoped.”

King admitted he made a mistake on booking 3 Trails West, a national act, and the most expensive. The six-member band required air-fare that cost $2,000 in addition to its regular fee, he said.

“That was my error,” King said. “I thought their proposal for $6,000 included airline costs, but it was that amount plus airline costs.”

Local sponsors for the Cowboy Gathering contributed $7,000 toward the music event, he said. The money went toward paying musicians, but ticket sales were low, compounding the problem.

King has since paid the fair board $526 to help cover the overages, said fair board treasurer Brandee Simmons.

“I don’t feel his (cost overruns) were intentional or for personal gain, but I don’t feel he went about it in the right way,” Simmons said.

Fair account hits zero

The commissioners were dismayed at the financial quagmire.

“It sounds like you need a primer course in contractual commitments,” said commissioner Keenan Ertel. “I have difficulty believing that the $4,000 was approved, but no board member has a recollection of that, and it’s not in the minutes.”

Commissioner Steve Chappell added, “You would think that financials at this level would be discussed thoroughly. This turned into financial quicksand.”

Other aspects of this year’s fair also didn’t pan out well. Fair organizers said the water park was a bust, and the traditional Chuck Wagon Dinner didn’t do as well as hoped.

“The water park contract was over the phone and did not include what we were expecting,” Lawrence said. “The dinner did not serve as many plates as last year. The timing was bad, and people felt $15 was expensive.”

On the positive side, the demolition derby, gymkhana, and the Colt Start Challenge did well.

The commissioners chipped in $17,000 toward the fair this year, $5,000 more than last year. The additional amount was to try and host different events to attract a more diverse crowd.

“We took a chance on trying to expand the fair, and it did not work out,” Simmons said, adding, “We are all volunteers on this board and work hard to put on a safe and fun fair for the community.”

The county fair bank account is down to zero as a result of the additional expenses, Simmons said, and the county had to pay outstanding bills totaling $1,100.

After the 2013 county fair, the board had $10,000 to put toward this year’s fair, Simmons said.

The fair board recently purchased a concession stand for $4,500, which will be put up for sale to try and recoup losses.

“We have been directed by the county to sell off our assets to make up for the cost overruns. We have a lot of fundraising to do for next year’s fair,” Simmons said.

Kathy Marler and Shawn Treiner, have resigned from the fair board, and two terms are up, leaving four open seats on the nine-member board.

When King was asked at the meeting if he would stay on the board, he said “very likely no.”

jmimiaga@cortezjournal.com