Routt County’s proposed pot tax too ‘high’ for Hayden’s liking
Steamboat Springs — The Routt County Board of Commissioners agree they are likely months away from making a decision on whether or not to allow marijuana grow facilities in unincorporated areas of the county; however, they did vote unanimously Aug. 23 to put the question of establishing a 5 percent excise tax on any future sales of pot grown on the November ballot. That move was enough to raise concerns among officials in the nearby town of Hayden.
Hayden voters, casting ballots in a special election in January, voted 260 to 236 in favor of a new ordinance allowing commercial grow operations. At the same time, voters approved an excise tax of 7.5 percent on all legal wholesale marijuana cultivation within the Hayden town limits, and that tax can be increased as much as 15 percent by a town council vote if industry impacts warrant it.
The town is hoping revenues from grow operations will improve it fiscal picture. The rub is in the 2.5 percent difference between the tax Hayden is currently levying and Routt County’s proposed 5 percent excise tax.
“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,” Hayden Mayor Jim Haskins wrote to the county commissioners this week. “A difference of 2.5 percent in taxes can also have a large impact on a business’s bottom line and in their decision of where to locate.”
He asked the county not to further pursue any plans to allow grow facilities in the rural county.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said Tuesday’s vote to put the tax question on the ballot doesn’t mean lifting a county moratorium on pot grows is a foregone conclusion.
“I don’t think this should be seen as a signal that I’m going to support marijuana-growing operations in unincorporated Routt County,” he said.
The irony is that state law prohibits Routt County from imposing an excise tax of more than 5 percent on pot, but the town of Hayden, which operates under a home rule charter, is not bound by that limitation.
“By state statute, Routt County is limited to a maximum 5 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana cultivation, whereas the town of Hayden is a home rule town allowing it, and the voters of Hayden set the excise tax at 7.5 percent,” Haskins acknowledged.
Hayden Town Manager Greg Tuliszewski underscored during a public hearing on the matter this week that a county approval process that could offer marijuana grow operators a lower excise tax could impact the community’s plan to improve its fiscal health.
County Commissioner Doug Monger responded that it’s possible some of the costs of setting up an indoor grow facility in the rural county could offset the disparity in tax rates.
“We’re very supportive of Hayden’s opportunity,” Monger said. “I believe the cost of doing business will be considerably higher (in the rural county) with water and sewer and even being able to get water. We still want to incentivize people going to Hayden.”
The commissioners have said previously that the reason for putting the pot tax before the voters is to have the excise tax in place to mitigate impacts on county services should they eventually go forward with creating an approval process that could lead to issuance of special use permits for grow operations that intend to wholesale unprocessed marijuana to retailers.
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