Mesa County commissioners nix bike-race funding request
Mesa County commissioners voted unanimously Monday to lend the Grand Junction Off-Road mountain bike and music festival six variable message boards and staff to maintain them during the three-day event that starts May 20, but not $10,000 in direct funding as organizers requested.
The value of the in-kind donation was $3,452, said Peter Baier, deputy administrator for county operations.
It was the first time since the Off-Road started in 2013 that Mesa County refused to write a check to cover the cost of the festival’s traffic control plan.
Now in its fourth year, the Off-Road attracts hundreds of riders and their families to the Grand Valley. Organizers expect to annually register 2,000 cyclists for the event in the coming years, said Dave Grossman, event director.
“I strongly believe (mountain bike) trails are our path to the future,” Grossman told the board.
Over the past three years, commissioners appropriated around $27,000 to help the Off-Road cover costs, but they declined to pay directly this year for a variety of reasons.
Event organizers, for example, originally said three years of support would be enough to get the event established, Commissioner Scott McInnis said. In 2016, however, Grossman asked for “continuing” support into the future.
“Permanent funding for a private business — that’s how we get into budget problems,” McInnis said.
Another issue for McInnis was liability insurance. The $1 million in coverage the Off-Road must purchase in order to hold the event is for the standard amount normally required by the county, Baier told the board.
Even though coverage is probably adequate, cyclists always fall and are injured at biking events. Mesa County could still be forced to defend a lawsuit in such an event, McInnis said.
He also said the Off-Road organization is probably “judgment proof,” meaning the organization lacks hard assets from which a court’s judgment for money in favor of an injured cyclist could be satisfied.
McInnis also called “offensive” remarks by Sarah Shrader, founder of the Grand Valley Outdoor Recreation Coalition and co-founder of Bonsai Design, who said in a news story in The Daily Sentinel on Sunday that she didn’t believe the county was doing enough to promote economic development.
Shrader also said in the story that her business is succeeding despite ineffective economic development efforts by city and county governments.
Bonsai Design, in operation 11 years, employs more than 30 people at an average salary of $50,000 a year, Shrader said as she encouraged commissioners to fund the Off-Road request.
When she finished, McInnis asked her to continue standing at the podium to answer questions, then spent the next several minutes telling her why she was wrong about the county’s economic development efforts.
Mesa County’s core responsibilities include operating the sheriff’s office and maintaining roads and other infrastructure. All these activities constitute a form of “economic development,” he told Shrader. Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities supported by the county similarly constitute economic development, he said.
Shrader apologized for any offense, which she said was unintended.
“I just think we need to be thinking collaboratively, and a little outside the box,” she said. “Economic development is many things. It is investing in roads, but it’s also bringing people here.” Baier recommended an economic analysis of the 2016 event be conducted by the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau or the Grand Junction Economic Partnership to verify claims about the number of people drawn to the city, the amount of money they spend and where they spend it.
In voting to deny the money request, Commissioner Rose Pugliese urged GJEP to “do some economic development” and invest the money Mesa County previously appropriated for GJEP to fund the Off-Road event.
GJEP’s mission is to recruit large employers to relocate to Grand Junction, according to its charter.
In other news, commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution opposing Amendment 69, known as the Colorado Cares amendment. It proposes a single-payer health plan for the state, which Commissioner John Justman called “an economic disaster waiting to happen.”