Ravalli Co. voters to decide on fairgrounds mill levy


HAMILTON, Mont. - In November, voters in the Bitterroot will have a decision to make on a new funding proposal for the Ravalli County Fairgrounds.

County commissioners voted 4 to 1 to put an initiative on the ballot asking voters to ok a levy of 5 mills every year. The levy would raise $400,000 to fund operations, improvements and maintenance at the historic fairgrounds.

If approved, the county would stop funneling general fund money to the fairgrounds.

Here's the math: Taxpayers owning a $100,000 property would pay $6.55 a year. Those who own a $200,000 house would pay $13.10, and a $300,000 house would generate $19.65 a year.

Fairgrounds Manager Deborah Rogala said the mill levy would give the fairgrounds' budget more stability.

The bills don't stop, she said, but revenue is inconsistent.

"You never know how many people are going to show up," said Rogala. "You always have your fixed costs, and you hope to balance that out with the revenue you bring in."

Rogala said most revenue comes from fair receipts. The county does provide general fund money, but it can flucuate from $135,000 a year to $85,000.

The fair manager thinks a mill levy could make up for bad weather or poor crowd turnout.

"That will insure that we can not only balance the budget," she said, "but we will be putting money into continued maintenance."

Rogala's tenure has seen many improvements on the fairgrounds. But she sees the rodeo grounds need improvement, and some of the buildings and their infrastructure are antiquated.

There are plans to improve year-round trails. There are plans for a folfing course, and an indoor equestrian center.

The fair commission touts the grounds as a central location for many events.

"The fairgrounds has become a year-round entity," said fair commission Chair Margaret Yuhas.

If the mill levy passes, the board would have an option to eliminate gate fees at the fair. Supporters said that would greatly help families, who find going to the fair too expensive.

Although most commissioners expressed concern about asking voters for another levy, Ron Stoltz was the only dissenting vote.

"I think this is a bad time to do this," said Stoltz. "I don't think this is a help, I think this is a killer."

But commissioner Suzy Foss applauds the effort. She's on board.

"The goal of bringing in events that will draw people year-round," said Foss, "is a really good goal."

Commission Chair Greg Chilcott thinks it could be a tough sell to voters. But that's a question for November.

The Ravalli County Fair runs from August 27 to August 30.

The fairgrounds will also see improvements from a transportation grant. It will mean new sidewalks, improved handicapped access, and a bicycle rest area.