City Council members express interest in proposing additional taxes on marijuana, alcohol
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs City Council in November could ask voters to consider putting an additional tax on the sales of alcohol, retail marijuana and possibly tobacco in the city as a way to boost funding for substance abuse prevention and treatment in the Yampa Valley.
The council fears the community does not have enough funding for such efforts, and it is not likely the state or federal government will provide it.
Councilman Tony Connell initially pitched the ballot proposal as a tax on retail marijuana sales, but it has now evolved into a possible tax on several substances.
“Where we are missing the boat is (substance abuse) prevention education and for navigation for counseling,” Connell said. “I hope we do something sooner than later before we lose any more kids and don’t give them options for counseling.”
A majority of the council supported doing some more research in the coming weeks to better define a potential ballot proposal.
Connell is proposing adding a 2 percent sales tax on both the sale of alcohol and marijuana in the city.
He said the tax questions on the two substances should be separate ballot questions.
Councilwoman Robin Crossan suggested the council should also look into the potential of proposing a tax on tobacco products.
City Attorney Dan Foote said while the council could propose a tax on such things as chewing tobacco, it cannot legally propose an additional tax on cigarettes.
The amount of funding that could be generated by a tax proposal would depend on the substances that are included and the rate at which they were taxed.
Numbers thrown out by some council members would result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional revenue.
Several communities in Colorado already have adopted additional sales taxes on marijuana.
The council’s resolve to look into a substance tax came after some leaders of the local medical community supported placing an additional tax on some or all substances sold in the city.
“There has to be some mechanism to help fund education,” Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Frank May said.
May said the hospital’s emergency room has seen patients ranging from a 12-year-old who overdosed on heroin to a 65-year-old woman from Nebraska who came to Colorado to try marijuana but ended up in the hospital because the drug made her psychotic.
Pat Arnone, who works in the marijuana industry, told the council education about substance abuse is important, but marijuana should not be singled out on a ballot measure.
Councilman Jason Lacy said the council needs to answer several questions before a ballot measure is pursued, including what specifically the money would be spent on.
He also questioned whether a 2 percent tax on alcohol and retail marijuana sales was the right amount.
He said if the council does not go forward with a ballot measure, it should consider earmarking tax revenue it already receives from marijuana sales for the substance abuse prevention efforts.
Councilman Scott Ford expressed concern about a potential tax measure.
“I’m skeptical when it comes to taxes, particularly taxes in areas that are not core city services,” Ford said.
Connell acknowledged the council has previously not done much to step into the realm of community health, but that gap “needs to be addressed before we lose another generation of kids.”
The council on Tuesday also discussed the prospect of asking voters to place a new tax on the sales of lift tickets at Steamboat Ski Area to fund transportation improvements in the city.
A majority of the council made it clear they would not support going forward with such a proposal at this time.
Rob Perlman, the CEO of the ski area, told the council a lift ticket tax would be divisive.
“We’ll spend our time and resources to oppose this when we could spend our time on more productive things,” Perlman said.
Connell, who also floated that idea, was the only council member to say he was ready to pursue a lift ticket tax proposal.
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