PUEBLO, Colorado — A recently released state audit found Colorado State Fair has operated in the red for decades, and in recent years the deficits topped $4 million a year.
The auditors called attention to the fair's increasing dependence on state and local government to subsidize operations and point to weak oversight by the fair's Authority board as cause for concern.
"The Colorado State Fair Authority is not sufficiently governed by its Board of Commissioners, nor is it managed strategically," the report states.
It explains that the board failed to exercise statutory responsibilities
Pueblo County Commissioner Chris Wiseman served as State Fair Manager for several years and later as the Deputy Commissioner of Agricultures.
He said the bad news from this audit needs context. For starters, state law considers the fair to be an enterprise, meaning it is self-sustaining financially.
"One thing that I've always tried to explain to legislators is that it's not a profit center," Wiseman said. "It was never meant to be a profit center. Why it's indicated in state government as a state enterprise is beyond me, that's something that the legislators in 1997 thought was appropriate."
He explained that designating the fair as an enterprise implies that the event is intended to raise revenue for the state.
"Across the board fairs aren't profit centers. If they were profit centers people in the private community would be doing so," Wiseman said.
He also pointed out that recent changes in state auditing rules have added costs to the fair's bottom line that lawmakers traditionally pay for, like employee pensions.
"They put in the unfunded amount of PERA which is a state problem on a whole," Wiseman said.
The Colorado Office of the State Auditor serves as a non-partisan in the Legislative Branch. State lawmakers from Pueblo told News 5 they think fair is being unfairly targeted.
"I think to have one-sided conversations in which the State Fair is always on the target list, always, is just not fair to me," said Senate President Leroy Garcia.
He suspects there could be politics at play considering how frequently talks start up about relocating the fair closer to the Denver metro area.
"We had record attendance, we had great sponsorship, you know it's become a great area for families to enjoy and celebrate," Garcia said.
State Representative Daneya Esgar said there are no legislative proposals put forward to relocate the fair.
"We're not going to move the State Fair, the State Fair is going to stay in Pueblo and we just need to really figure out how to support that fair to make sure that it can be as successful as possible," Esgar said.
She added that fair management has already implemented many of the auditors recommendations.
Attendance at the 2019 Colorado State Fair grew by 5 percent to a total of 466,380 visitors. Revenue generated during the fair topped $5.1 million.
Prior to and during the audit process, the Colorado State Fair Authority has worked closely with the office of the State Attorney General to interpret Colorado statutes governing the State Fair and ensure we are operating within those statutes.
State Fair Manager Scott Stoller released the following statement in response to the audit.
"The collaborative goal of the State Fair Board of Commissioners, General Manager and Department of Agriculture is to continue the decades-long success of the State Fair as we build upon the tradition of serving hundreds of thousands of Coloradans of all ages who visit, compete and showcase their talents at the fair in Pueblo every summer. We view the State Auditor's Office recommendations as tools we can leverage to further elevate, advance and celebrate the many aspects of Colorado's vital agricultural industry."