Beer is on the Menu for the Sand and Sage Fair

Council Chambers Filled for Public Hearing

Council Chambers Filled for Public Hearing

The Lamar City Council voted unanimously in favor of the special events permit request allowing beer to be served during the August fair at the Prowers County Fairgrounds.  The request was made by the Sand and Sage Fair Board following a public hearing during the council’s regular meeting, Monday, July 13.  Essentially it was a done deal when the request was made, as the Prowers County Commissioners opened that door with their recent two to one vote to allow the fair board to use the property for a beer tent several weeks from now.  The permit will allow beer to be served on August 1st during the concert and August 6-8 during the afternoon and evenings.  The Sunday Ranch Rodeo has been moved to Thursday to accommodate a larger crowd anticipated with the introduction of beer.

Lamar Mayor Roger Stagner explained the council’s position on their vote to the packed chamber room, “The council is looking only at the permitting request to make sure all legal requirements have been met,” he explained before and after the vote was taken.  In the case of similar permits, the council will ask if there have been law enforcement related problems associated with other events that serve alcohol such as the Oktoberfest or Road Jams or hospice fundraisers.  As this will be a first time event there was no such concern involved, and the permit paperwork was in order, and the permit was approved.

But not without comment.  As it was a public hearing, the public was heard from, with about a dozen speakers, pro and con for about 75 minutes before the Mayor called for a council vote.  Several of those in favor of the permit spoke about the need to add new activities to the fair using revenue from the beer garden.  Fair board member, Diane Pool thanked the county for the $50,000 in funds allocated to the board each year, but added, “That just covers our expenses and the extra revenue we believe we can bring in will help bring back the attendance numbers.”  She added that she has been a board member for 20 years, and a beer garden proposal has been discussed for at least that long.  She stated that she has researched other county fair operations in Colorado and all reports were favorable, “They’ve never had any problems with alcohol when the event is regulated,” she said.

Mark Carrigan, current fair board president, stated the board has worked very hard to make sure the beer garden will be free of any problems.  He provided a display of the tent, detailing dimensions, security fences and that all but several of the fair board has taken the TIP training for serving beer in a safe, controlled environment.  “There’s only one entrance and that and the exits will be watched to make sure no one brings beer in or out and customers will be 21 or older,” he explained.  When asked from the audience where the fair board members stand on the proposal, he replied each and everyone one of them is in favor.

Henry Schnabel, Prowers County Commissioner, spoke in opposition to the permit, first apologizing to the council for having this issue land on their doorstep.  “This public hearing should have been done by the county,” he said.  Schnabel cast the single opposing vote to allow the fair board to hold a beer garden at a county sanctioned event.  “This will make a departure from a long tradition we’ve had with the fair.  I’d like to know what changed with our mores to allow this to happen?” he stated.  Schnabel said this will develop a slippery slope of relaxed standards which may, in the future, see beer openly consumed throughout the fairgrounds property as it is now at the state fair in Pueblo. “It used to be served only in tents and now it’s everywhere you go at that fair,” he stated.  The commissioner likened the rules change to the development of marijuana use in the state, “First it was medicinal and now it’s recreational,” he said.  He appealed to the council to find a way to take the issue back to the citizens for their vote.  As it was, those in favor had petitions with 386 signatures, while Schnabel said he had garnered 226 opposed, in a partial tally.  Councilwoman Bev Haggard asked for a general show of hands on the issue and those in the audience who favored the tent had at least a two to one plurality.

Benny Schumate spoke briefly, asking why no one had mentioned the special relationship the kids have to the fair, “They’ve worked all year to be able to show off work to the public at this event,” he stated.  Jim Danglish stated that his experience with past boards where beer was served showed that money was lost, “In my experience these are not good fundraisers,” he said, adding, “If you come for the rodeo, you come for that event, why do you need to have a beer to watch?”

Prowers County Sheriff Sam Zordel

Prowers County Sheriff Sam Zordel

Prowers County Sheriff, Sam Zordel, was asked by the council about security arrangements and signage prohibiting open containers of alcohol.  “The signs would help during the fair, even if they were posted all through the year,” he explained.  Zordel said no one would have their coolers or vehicles spot checked for alcohol by his deputies, so there shouldn’t be any concern from the public about having their privacy violated.  It has been generally acknowledged that beer and stronger spirits have always found their way into the fairgrounds areas in the past.   He reiterated that arrests would be made if any genuine trouble developed, beer or not, but the fairgrounds would always have law enforcement control present.

Unless there is a general election vote on the future of a beer garden, Monday’s scenario will repeat itself next year.  The Prowers County Commissioners would have to approve a petition to put the question before the public and they would decide on the nature of the question.  If that doesn’t happen, the fair board will need to request the fairgrounds property for a beer garden in 2016 which will require a vote of the commissioners, and if approved, will be forwarded to the Lamar City Council for a public hearing for the special events permit.

By Russ Baldwin

 

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