Eagle County voters to decide $1.2 million in new marijuana taxes for mental health programs | VailDaily.com

Eagle County voters to decide $1.2 million in new marijuana taxes for mental health programs

Avon Police Chief Greg Daly, right, spoke in favor of asking voters to approve an Eagle County pot tax to fund mental health programs. The county commissioners voted unanimously Friday to put the question to voters on the November ballot.

EAGLE — Eagle County voters will decide whether to tax marijuana to pay for expanded mental health programs.

The Eagle County commissioners voted unanimously Friday morning to put a question on the November ballot asking if voters are willing to add local sales and excise taxes to local marijuana retail sales and cultivation and spend as much as $1.2 million of that new tax money on mental health programs.

"I call this a courageous step for filling this void, this vacuum for mental health in our community. It's a huge step in sustainability … for people who need hope in their lives," said Greg Daly, Avon's police chief and board member of Speak Up, Reach Out, a local suicide-prevention organization.

Mental health 'epidemic'

Mental and behavioral health issues have become an "epidemic," said Chris Lindley, Eagle County's director of human services.

Vail Health's Sheila Sherman said the hospital's number of mental health cases has skyrocketed in the past three years:

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• 211 in 2014

• 385 in 2015

• 509 in 2016

"If we were talking about sexually transmitted diseases or the flu, we'd be calling those numbers an epidemic," Lindley said.

Many people with mental health issues land in the Eagle County jail because there's nowhere else for them, said James van Beek, Eagle County Sheriff.

"Last year at this time, 70 percent of the jail inmates were on some kind of medication. I still have people in my facility who should not be there. That is not the place for them," van Beek said.

Jail could be avoided for 20 percent to 25 percent of the people incarcerated, if the county had a mental health facility, van Beek said.

Half the people incarcerated have their first experience with a mental health professional when they land in jail, said Jill Ryan, Eagle County commissioner.

The cops don't like marijuana, but it's here, said Daly and van Beek.

"We're the tip of the spear. We deal with those calls," Daly said. "When we're dealing with people under those circumstances, they should be treated as patients, not pseudo-suspects."

Mental health is a widespread need the county needs to focus on, said Kathy Chandler-Henry, county commissioner.

"The need is clear, the will to do something is clear. What remained was how to do it. Now we're asking the voters what they think," Chandler-Henry said.

Programs, not buildings

The pot tax money will pay for programs, not buildings.

While Mind Springs will run the mental and behavioral health programs, Mountain Family Health would fund a building separately, similar to a facility it's constructing in Frisco. Two buildings are envisioned as part of all this — one in Edwards and one in Basalt, Lindley said.

Mountain Family Health is a federally qualified health center that provides medical, dental and behavioral health care for low-income people, said Ross Brooks, Mountain Valley Health CEO.

In their case, low income means 200 percent of the federal poverty level. That's $24,000 for an individual and $49,000 for a family of four, Brooks said.

The county owns land in Edwards' Freedom Park that it would donate for a building, said Bryan Treu, interim county manager.

An Edwards building would be between 12,000 and 15,000 square feet per floor, Brooks said.

The county would likely add another story to house a mid-valley annex for the county's health and human services department, Treu said.

Colorado's cash crop

Because Eagle County does not currently have its own pot tax, the county's marijuana money comes from the state's 10 percent sales tax and 15 percent excise tax.

Last year was Colorado's third year of regulated pot sales. Colorado's statewide excise tax generated nearly $200 million in statewide marijuana tax revenue in 2016, stemming from $1.3 billion in marijuana sales, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

Eagle County spent $14,000 for a poll by Boulder-based Magellan Strategies. Poll results found that as many as 78 percent of the 400 likely voters questioned said they would support a tax.

Eagle County would joins 10 counties and 76 municipalities across Colorado that levy their own pot taxes.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Follow the money

What your $1.2 million buys

Three umbrella mental and behavioral health programs to be operated by Mind Springs Health, which operates in 13 locations around Western Colorado. The three programs are:

• Operation of a social detox center: A safe place where people can allow the effects of drugs and alcohol to subside and can be monitored to be make sure they’re safe. It’s also called withdrawal management.

• Crisis stabilization beds that are licensed by the state: Someone can be held legally for as long as five days. Crisis stabilization is for people who are highly agitated or could present a community safety risk, people having serious mental health concerns, severe anxiety and/or depression. It is not for people involved in serious criminal activity.

• Respite care: For people who are living with a mental illness and periodically might contemplate suicide. It’s for people who are a step below crisis stabilization, who need mental health support.

Source: Eagle County Health and Human Services

What else your $1.2 million could buy

• A full-time mental-health counselor in local schools and another in the county jail.

• A coordinator to help connect mental-health needs with the many local nonprofits that work in the field.

Source: Eagle County Health and Human Services

What your $1.2 million does not buy

• The money will not be used to fund construction of buildings proposed in Edwards and Basalt. The federally qualified Mountain Valley Health Centers will run a capital campaign to construct these facilities, similar to the way they’re constructing a facility in Frisco.

• The facilities are envisioned at 12,000 to 15,000 square feet per floor.

• Mountain Valley Health Centers would integrate into the ground floor of both the Edwards and Basalt buildings.

• The Edwards building could be three floors. Eagle County is proposing building one of those floors as a mid-valley annex for its health and human services department.

Source: Eagle County Health and Human Services

Why $1.2 million

Mind Springs CEO Sharon Raggio said $1.2 million will cover the company’s annual operating losses associated with only this program after it has billed Medicare and Medicaid, private insurance and individuals.

Source: Mind Springs Health

Where the $1.2 million comes from

Right now, Eagle County receives around $250,000 a year from retail marijuana sales taxes. The proposed tax increase would be phased in, beginning at 2.5 percent a year and capping at 5 percent.

• 2.5 percent would generate an additional $350,000 annually.

• 5 percent would generate an additional $750,000 annually.

Retailers would pay that. The rest of the money would come from a 5 percent excise taxes on marijuana growers. That would be piled onto the existing state excise taxes they already pay.

Source: Eagle County

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