CEDAR CITY – The Western Freedom Festival that stirred up quite a bit of controversy last year won’t be getting any more financial support from the Iron County Commission.
The commission earmarked $20,000 from the Transient Room Tax (TRT) fund for the festival last year but only used half of the money. The commissioners unanimously voted Monday to transfer the $10,000 back to its original account.
“We pulled out $20,000 from the TRT funds and transferred it over to use for the Western Freedom Festival but we didn’t use it so now it needs to go back in there because we’re not going to be doing the festival anymore,” Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff said.
TRT money is a tax imposed by the county on hotel room rentals, campgrounds, inns and similar accommodations for stays less than 30 consecutive days. The county can only use the money to promote recreation and tourism within the county, per Utah code.
Iron County was among Kane, Beaver, Washington, Paiute, San Juan and Wayne counties that all financially subsidized the event last year with the intent the festival would rotate from one to another every year.
The Commission approved another $20,000 for this year’s festival, according to the 2016 budget. The trio later backed out of the financial commitment after the County Attorney’s Office raised concerns about using the TRT money in Sevier County, where the festival was held.
An all-day itinerary of controversial political speakers and highly charged topics at last year’s event raised criticism from various groups that objected to the county financially supporting the festival.
A performance by country western singer Darryl Worley highlighted the event that night but also drew ire from protestors who gathered outside of the Centrum on Southern Utah University’s campus during his concert.
At the time, then Commissioner Dave Miller called the festival “patriotic” and a “celebration of freedom and western culture.”
In other business, the commissioners voted for a resolution opposing the proposed Bears Ears Monument under consideration by President Obama.
If the area is designated as a National Monument, it would set aside 1.9 million acres – a move state and local leaders argue would bring an economic collapse to San Juan County where the proposed monument is located.
“In a County with only 8% private property, access to public land is vital to the economic and social welfare of the residents of the County,” the resolution states.
Commissioner Alma Adams pointed to Garfield County and the designation of the Grand-Escalante Staircase as an example why the federal government should not make the area a monument.
“This designation, 2 million acres, could wipe out that county economically,” Adams said. “Look at what’s happened to Garfield County. They can’t even fill up their schools because everyone is having to move out of the area because they can’t find viable work there. The (Grand-Escalante Staircase) monument has destroyed Garfield County and Bears Ears will do the same to San Juan.”
The resolution is among many others signed throughout the state signifying opposition to the monument designation.
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