Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Despite an energetic campaign, a bond to fund improvements at the Missoula County Fairgrounds appeared to fail as ballot counting ran deeper into Tuesday night.

By Wednesday morning, the $19 million bond had garnered just 42% of the vote, or 20,272 in favor and nearly 28,000 against. It was a larger margin than the crisis services levy, which also failed to win public support on Tuesday.

Advocates of the program couldn't be reached at the provided number on Tuesday night, but Emily Brock, director of economic and land development for the county, said work to improve the facility will continue.

"The fair goes on, as it has for over a century, and Phase 1 renovations will continue as planned," she said on Facebook.

The tax impact of the fairgrounds bond would add $14 a year for every $200,000 of a home's assessed value. The assessed value is set by the state and does not reflect a home's true market value.

The bond would last for 20 years and join a number of other bonds that taxpayers are currently funding including the Missoula Public Library, Fort Missoula Regional Park, Missoula County Public Schools and Missoula Aging Services, which voters approved in June.

The $19 million fairgrounds bond would fund a number of improvements including a livestock arena, improved green space and a third sheet of ice at Glacier Ice Rink, according to backers, who released a statement regarding the bond's failure on Wednesday morning.

“The fairgrounds has been a hub of activity for more than 100 years. It's now so popular that not everyone who wants to use it can,” they said. “Our facilities are operating at maximum capacity, which limits opportunities for county residents. We will continue our work to improve the ice and agricultural education facilities so the current programs using them can grow and thrive.”

The fairgrounds has evolved over the past five years thanks to an array of funding sources including tax increment financing from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and additional taxes already levied as mills by Missoula County commissioners.

The latter raised funding to cover Phase 1 improvements, which have included historic renovations and other site improvements such as landscaping, a plaza, fencing and other things.

But Phase 2 requires additional revenue, and the $19 million bond was proposed as a means to fund those improvements.

“The Friends of Our Fairgrounds group is disappointed that the fairgrounds bond didn’t pass, but we’ve made significant gains over the course of this campaign,” backers added. “We're thankful to the many people who've supported the campaign and look forward to working with you together in support of our shared goals.”