Utah County considers selling $10 million park to help close budget gap

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Utah County considers selling $10 million park to help close budget gap (Photo: KUTV)

The horse community is pushing to save a county-owned equestrian center that county leaders are considering selling.

All three county commissioners recently voted to accept bids on the North County Equestrian Park, which is located in the midst of Lehi, Highland and American Fork. It appraised for about $10 million.

More than 4,000 people have signed an online petition to keep and improve the facility, which they’ve described as poorly managed, and increase revenue.

Commissioner Bill Lee said the park caught his attention as one that should be more heavily scrutinized. It’s costing the county $60,000 to $80,000 per year, he said, at a time when commissioners are looking to raise property taxes after years of deficit spending.

“It appeared like it was an underutilized park and that it was a financial drain to the county,” he said.

Bryan Rasmussen, a horse trainer who uses the indoor arena four days a week, said he’s been coming to the park since he was a child. He said it’s an asset to his family and to his business, and he was not expecting it to be sold.

“It took me by surprise because there are a lot of people that come and ride here,” Rasmussen said. “I never thought that they would be trying to take it away."

Commissioner Nathan Ivie, who grew up in the horse industry and owns a horse ranch, said he’d like the facility to remain public.

“The sale of an asset like this is a one-time bang to try and take care of an ongoing problem,” Ivie said, “and I actually don’t think that’s good financial practice.”

Commissioner Lee said there are many options for the property, including selling it entirely to a developer or to a nearby city that could better manage it and keep it public. The county could also sell some of the land and keep the indoor arena. Another alternative is to increase revenue through better management, by collecting more from those who use the facility and by renting it out for events.

Nobody rented the facility this year, Lee said based on information from the county’s public works department.

People are supposed to pay to use the indoor pavilion through a fee box, but the cost may be little-known to some users.

Commissioner Tanner Ainge told 2News in a written statement:

"I feel strongly about this for two reasons:

  1. With the amount of growth we are experiencing our county should be enhancing and preserving our open spaces, not diminishing them.
  2. Selling off parks to partially cover a budget deficit is a short-sighted, unsustainable approach to fiscal management and makes us worse off in the long-term.”

Lee said he’s also scrutinizing other budget items, including whether the county is best using the hundreds of vehicles in its fleets.

One outcome of the equestrian park discussion, he said, could be that the facility is ultimately improved for the users and better for the budget.

“I think it would be detrimental for us, though, for all involved — horse lovers, those who are part of the equestrian center — to try to say, ‘Let’s just kill this and get it stopped right now and stay at status quo’ is where we’re at,” Lee said. “Something’s got to change and that change comes from conversation and for us to take a look at all the options.”