Salute Rally Funding in Question?

Woodland Park Leaders May Axe City Monies For Special Events

 Trevor Phipps

Elected leaders across the region have often questioned whether local municipalities should allocate taxpayer dollars to fund events and organizations, aimed at attracting people to town.

This discussion has hit the center stage in  Cripple Creek and Woodland Park, and often hinges on whether the local government should allocate  monies for such popular festivals as the Salute to American Veterans Rally and motorcycle ride.

The WP  council recently held a work session to begin the  2024 budget talks. Even though the budget will not be voted on until later this year, the council had a preliminary meeting with the city staff to get a handle on their fiscal priorities for next year.

Funding special events was on the potential hit list for the council.  In fact, the council decided to remove event funding from their priority list,  and to not pay  $15,000 for “signature” festivals like it had for 2023. This could impact the Salute Rally, which does a remembrance ceremony and motorcycle procession that often attract thousands to the area. It is not sure what impact this apparent change in fiscal direction for the council will play in the planning of next year’s event. Other local events also could be impacted by this preliminary stance

However, leaders say this action does not mean that city would not fund or allocate monies for specific events. Instead,  the council prefers to have the ability to approve or deny event funding on a case-by-case basis.

 Regardless, this marks a key change from current practices.  At the same time, preliminary reports indicate that   city revenues and lodging taxes are experiencing a  slight increase from 2022.

During the budget talks last year, the elected leaders agreed to fund $15,000 to support local events and organizations that put on specific festivals.  The council had planned to create a committee headed by a new economic development director to decide who would get the funds, and how much each event would receive.

But since the city has still not hired an economic development director, event funding is still being handled  by the city’s parks and recreation advisory board. For 2023, the board dived up the $15,000  pot in available monies, and funded 13 events.

The big winners this year were three events related to the Salute to American Veterans Rally, which mostly occurred in Memorial Park. The organizer for the three events received a total of $5,000.

But during a previous meeting, the council agreed that one organization or company will only be able to submit one application for funding instead of multiple entries. The council also agreed that there should not be a maximum or minimum amount each group can get, and that the total of $15,000 should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

During the recent special event discussion, the arguments remained basically the same. Some leaders believe that the city should help foot the bill for certain events because they help generate money for local businesses and serve a vital community interest.

Picking Event Winners and Losers

But others contend that city dollars should be allocated for other purposes and not used for special events. Some council members also expressed  the opinion that city officials should not be put in the position of picking winners and losers when it comes to event funding and using taxpayer money.

Councilmember Catherine Nakai said that some people were not happy with the way council was spending taxpayer money on the events. “Some citizens have reached out to me and said things along the lines of, ‘you’re picking an event that I don’t like and using my taxpayer dollars to pay for it,’” Nakai said. “While it is an insignificant amount compared to our budget, they are not happy particularly when we also provide in-kind services to many of those events.”

Mayor Hilary LaBarre agreed. “I have always said that it is not an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars and I was interested in striking it when I was first elected,” the mayor said.

Councilman Frank Connors said that the discussion should take place after the city gets information on how much tax revenue gets generated by the events. “I thought that when we talked about it we were going to make that decision after we see if this actually does benefit us,” Connors said. “I am the first person that does not want to spend money if it does not benefit us as a citizenry.”

Mayor Pro Tem Kellie Case said that she understands these views, but expressed a concern about looking at the full picture. “The investment in these events is not just for stimulating tax revenues,” Case explained. “It is an investment in bringing things that are enjoyable to our community for citizens to attend and enjoy.”

The council, though, reached the consensus  (with the exception of Case and Connors) that event funding should be removed from the list of fiscal discussions for the 2024 budget. But that initial verdict could get reviewed further.

In fact, it is safe to say that the issue will be brought up again when official budget talks commence within the next few months.

Event funding has always emerged as a touchy funding in both Woodland Park and Cripple Creek. Whatever decision is made on this subject often ignites  opposition from vocal citizens and representatives of key organizations.

In fact, the Salute Rally was moved to Woodland Park, following a huge furor over this festival in Cripple Creek, which had hosted the rally for decades.