Election Guide 2016: Referendum 1A — County asks voters to pre-approve pot excise tax
Shall Routt County increase taxes by $500,000 annually in the first full fiscal year and by such amounts as are raised thereafter as authorized by colorado revised statutes 29-2-114 through the imposition of an excise tax of 5% of the average market rate, as determined by the Colorado Department of Revenue, on the first sale or transfer of unprocessed retail marijuana by a retail marijuana cultivation facility located within unincorporated Routt County, with such revenues to be used as determined by the board of county commissioners of routt county to fund public health and safety, county facilities and expenses related to public transportation; and shall such earnings thereon be collected, retained, and expended as a voter-approved revenue change without limitation or condition under Article x, Section 20 of the Colorado Constitution, or any other law?
Steamboat Springs — The Routt County Board of Commissioners has not yet made a decision to consider issuing permits for marijuana grow facilities in the unincorporated areas of Routt County, but in case they do in the future, the commissioners are asking county voters to approve a 5 percent excise tax, as permitted by Colorado law, on initial sales of unprocessed marijuana produced by a cultivation facility growing the plants for retailers.
The language of Referendum 1A caps the total revenue in the first fiscal year at $500,000.
The ballot question also allow the Board of Commissioners to determine how best to use the proceeds to fund public health and safety, county facilities and expenses related to public transportation.
Asking voters to approve the tax in advance is something the town of Hayden did in November 2015. A special election was held in January 2016 and Hayden residents voted 260 to 236 to permit growing operations in the town with an excise tax of 7.5 percent. The measure was seen by some as a way to boost town finances.
The implication of Referendum 1A is that the county would lift an existing moratorium on grow facilities, but there is no clear indication, based on discussions held beginning in July, that the commissioners will in fact alter current policy and entertain applications for grow facilities. The initial impetus for the ballot question came from Commission Chairwoman Cari Hermacinski.
“This is something I brought up shortly after I was sworn into office and based on my experience with the city” of Steamboat Springs, Hermacinski said July 25. “This was something I thought could work in the county, as well, at least for grow facilities. I voted against renewing the moratorium,” early this year.
If commissioners decided to take it to the next step, grow facilities would likely be considered within the ag/forestry zone district. But it’s not certain if the practice would be viewed as commercial or agricultural activity.
What is clear is that prospective grow facilities would have to clear some regulatory hurdles, not the least of which is securing water for the crop and providing for wastewater treatment.
Routt County Undersheriff Ray Birch told commissioners in August he considered it essential that county government ensure that the owner and employees of any grow facility allowed in the rural county be fully vetted and confirmed to be “of good moral character.”
And Town of Breckenridge detective Caitlin Kontak urged the commissioners to adopt the regulations applied by the state of Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division in order to be certain that local regulations governing grow facilities are enforceable.
Hayden Mayor Jim Haskins advised the commissioners in a letter that the 2.5 percent disparity between the tax in Hayden and the proposed tax in the unincorporated areas of the county was a concern to town government.
“This disparity in excise taxes would have a crippling impact on the town’s ability to attract and work with potential businesses that wish to establish their business in the town of Hayden,” Haskins wrote.
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