A half-dozen volunteer members of the North Custer Rodeo Committee last week approached Custer County commissioners with budget questions, ambitious plans to improve the rodeo grounds in Challis and a vision for the facility’s future.

The commissioners have assumed budget authority for the Challis rodeo grounds from the Custer County Fair Board, commission Chairman Wayne Butts told the group. This moves fair board members out of the difficult “middle man” position and is expected to resolve confusion between the committee and commissioners.

The commissioners plan to inform fair board members this week that they’ve taken over the Challis rodeo grounds budget, Butts said.

The county’s liability insurance agent advised the commissioners it would be better for them to be directly in charge of the rodeo grounds budget, Butts said. The fair board’s budget is already under the commissioners’ authority.

There’s been some dissension in the rodeo committee ranks, with new officers recently elected after some members objected to the direction previous officers had taken. They objected to the timing of work to dismantle chutes, holding pens and stock alleyways prior to a September bull riding event. Bucking chutes were dismantled and moved, leaving the grounds unfinished and currently unable to host a rodeo. The group is worried that repairs may not be completed before the spring high school rodeo season.

The chutes and holding pen fencing were dismantled and moved so rocky ground near the announcer’s stand could be leveled and fill dirt brought in to minimize chances of injury to livestock. Dissenting committee members wanted that work to be postponed until after the 2019 rodeo season, said Kurtis Koeppen, the committee’s new president.

“We’ve got to rebuild what’s down there in order to hold any events,” he told county commissioners last week. After more rocks are removed and the ground is leveled around the announcer’s stand, bucking chutes need to be put back and holding pens and stock alleyways rebuilt before the arena is ready to host a rodeo, committee members told the commissioners. The work has to be done before the high school rodeo season starts in mid-April, Koeppen said.

Koeppen presented a plan for rodeo ground changes that he said would make the facility safer and more efficient. The plans call for a center stock alleyway allowing two-way access from the south to the six existing stock bucking chutes and two holding chutes.

“I don’t have a problem with the plan,” Butts said, asking fellow commissioners Steve Smith and Randy Corgatelli whether they wanted to approve it. All three did so.

The new committee hopes to complete alterations in time and spend about $3,500 to get the facility ready, Koeppen said.

“We need to figure out what’s going on” with the budget, said Koeppen, who took over as president from Jordan Oerke this fall. Oerke had not returned several calls and a text message asking for comment by press time this week.

Corgatelli said at the Nov. 26 commissioner meeting that he thought Oerke and previous officers should get an award for all the volunteer work they did on the rodeo grounds. Oerke was primarily assisted by his sister Jolie Turek and their mother Julie Oerke.

The previous committee officers did a good job, Butts said. They rented space to campers during the past couple of Braun Brothers Reunions to earn extra revenue and had proposed rodeo ground improvements including an RV park with hookups for electricity and water to make the rodeo grounds more hospitable.

They also rented the rodeo grounds to the Forest Service earlier this year, generating $9,600. Not all of that has been received, and it can’t legally be spent before Sept. 30, 2019, because it was not budgeted for in the current fiscal year, Custer County Clerk Lura Baker told the new committee members. The commissioners, clerk and committee must first work out a rodeo grounds budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, 2019.

The county’s budget work has to be done in public workshops and adopted in public hearing so it’s transparent to the public, commissioners explained.

“Can we spend money to make repairs?” Koeppen asked the commissioners. He said committee members had been told they couldn’t fix anything without a plan, but the group had received fair board approval. Two years ago the commissioners took $4,280 out of the county’s payment in lieu of taxes savings account to use as seed money for rodeo ground improvements. The committee has $6,946 in the bank but can’t spend all of that money at once, Butts said. Some needs to be held for utilities and other expenses.

The Challis rodeo grounds currently hosts three big events during rodeo season: Challis High School rodeo, the Austin “Spank” Martiny Memorial Broncs and Bulls rodeo and the High Desert Bucking Bull Association competition.

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