Aug 23, 2023 - News

RAGBRAI costs Des Moines metro governments $300K+

A photo of RAGBRAI in Des Moines.

This year's RAGBRAI included an overnight stop in Des Moines. Photo: Courtesy of Catch DSM

RAGBRAI cost Des Moines and Ankeny governments at least $300,000 this year, mostly to pay for emergency staffing, according to information obtained by Axios through public record requests.

Why it matters: While Gannett's annual ride brings lots of attention and spending to towns, there are also costs for taxpayers.

Catch up fast: This year's ride included a July 26 trek from Ames to DSM for an overnight stop at Water Works Park before leaving the next day towards Toledo.

  • The route hit multiple towns along the way, including Ankeny, which was designated as the day's official "pass-through" city for hospitality and driver support services.

By the numbers: Des Moines city employee overtime for the event was around $136,000, which was mostly police costs.

  • That figure jumps to at least $247,000 when all salaries are included in the calculation of officers' RAGBRAI time, Sgt. Paul Parizek tells Axios.

Meanwhile, Polk County Emergency Management's personnel costs were nearly $25,000 and Ankeny's overtime-only costs were $21,000.

  • DSM Water Works paid almost $20,000 for a special insurance policy to cover the event.

What they're saying: The DSM region's RAGBRAI hosting expense was "easily $1 million," which donations and volunteers helped defray, Trina Flack, VP of sales for Catch DSM, tells Axios.

  • The estimate doesn't necessarily reflect a hard cash amount because it's difficult to factor normal daily staffing expenses from those attributed only to the event, she says.

The other side: RAGBRAI Gives Back, the ride's charity, raised more than $415K for local communities across the state, the Gannett-owned Register reported.

  • That included $5k for dozens of pass-through towns and $15K for overnight towns.
  • Organizers additionally assisted with some overnight expenses for things like concerts and volunteer gear, according to an unattributed statement the company sent to Axios.

Of note: Multiple cities outside DSM have in recent years lost tens of thousands of dollars hosting RAGBRAI and raised questions about its value, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reports.

  • But the event does generate millions of dollars in economic activity, the Gannett-owned Iowa City Press-Citizen reports.

The big picture: RAGBRAI is an expensive event to host but it also attracts tens of thousands of people who spend money, Flack tells us.

  • There were no major incidents or accidents in the metro, she adds.
  • "And if you cut corners along the way to save money, it may cost you something more," she says.
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