Country Jam will foot bill for sheriff
Despite concerns that the cost would be unsustainable, the new organizers of Country Jam will be billed $50,000 for law enforcement services provided by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office during the June 19-22 music festival in Mack.
Mesa County commissioners voted 2-1 Monday morning to amend a planned unit development agreement between the operator, Greenwich, Conn.-based Townsquare Media Group, and the county to allow for the charge beginning this year. Commissioner Rose Pugliese cast the dissenting vote, saying she felt conflicted about whether taxpayers should absorb the cost given the economic benefits of hosting a large festival in the county or if Townsquare Media should foot the bill because the Sheriff’s Office has to pay overtime in order to make sure there are enough deputies to patrol both the remote event and the rest of the county.
“The sheriff and his crew will be out there regardless — the question is who pays for it: the taxpayer or the private sector?” Pugliese said. “I don’t know that there’s a good solution.”
Townsquare Live Events Manager Sally Mazzocchi told commissioners other live events the group hosts in locations from Montana to Mexico do not require on-site help from local law enforcement. She said the group plans to increase private security staffing this year and bring in Townsquare’s security manager from New York for Country Jam.
“It’s tough to go from $0 last year to $50,000 this year. It’s something that we weren’t planning on. It’s something that’s tough for us to afford. It’s something that we can’t sustain over the future,” Mazzocchi said.
Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said it’s not entirely accurate to say the fee went from $0 to $50,000 because previous Country Jam proprietors voluntarily paid a fee to help cover the $68,000 to $121,000 it cost to have deputies patrol previous Country Jams. The fee ended after 2011, Hilkey said, because previous commissioners were uncomfortable having a law enforcement contract tied to approval of a liquor license.
Hilkey said the $50,000 charge will provide a “skeleton” crew of deputies ranging from two deputies at slow times to 14 deputies at peak times during the festival. He said more private security is welcome but not enough if an arrest needs to be made. The distance a deputy would have to travel from Grand Junction or a surrounding area to make that arrest necessitates having deputies on-site in order to handle a situation in a timely manner, he said.
“At a certain point you need a Colorado peace officer to step in to take action. There always will be a need for somebody with peace officer authority,” Hilkey said.
Mazzocchi said after Monday’s meeting, where commissioners also approved a Country Jam site liquor license for Mom’s West Inc., that the charge for law enforcement will not cause Townsquare to cancel Country Jam. But she said the group plans to conduct an economic impact study before next year’s festival to show how much the event impacts the local economy.
“We believe it’s gotta be millions of dollars, or at least close to it,” she said.
Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said he doubted that figure but hopes the group does generate a study, potentially with help from Colorado Mesa University. He added he believes the $50,000 fee is a reasonable amount given Townsquare’s efforts to provide more private security and a continuing need for even a bare- bones law enforcement operation.
“History has shown the event sponsor compensating the Sheriff’s Office has been successful in the past,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office will charge a $25,000 fee for a two-day Rock Jam festival later this summer if needed. A lineup for Rock Jam has yet to be announced and the event has not been confirmed. Mazzocchi said Townsquare will make an announcement about Rock Jam next week and that for now “we are focused on Country Jam.”