Eagle County ballot opponents say more proposed marijuana tax money should stay where it’s generated
October 31, 2017
EAGLE-VAIL — Opposition to Eagle County Ballot Issue 1A is growing as Election Day nears, while proponents maintain the programs it would fund are long overdue.
Like many squabbles, this one is about money and who gets it. The ballot issue proposes incremental sales and excise taxes on recreational marijuana, the first $1.2 million annually of which would fund mental health programs in the Eagle and Roaring Fork valleys.
Some Eagle-Vail leaders say that since the lion's share of Eagle County's marijuana tax money is generated in their community — along the "Green Mile" commercial district on U.S. Highway 6 — they should get a bigger share.
"Eagle County never has enough general revenue to fully fund Eagle-Vail public works. Revenue from a county tax on marijuana shops in Eagle-Vail can fix this problem," attorney Darlynne Littman said in a letter to the Vail Daily.
The time is now
Chris Lindley is Eagle County's health and human services director and one of the leading tax proponents. He said the point of the tax is to address the county's mental-health needs.
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"Anyone can pick apart any specific initiative, but the fact is that we need to get moving. This is a solution that is an impact on very few in this community. It's largely based on tourists who come here and purchase recreational marijuana," Lindley said.
Opposing pot tax
David Warner is an Eagle-Vail Metro District board member, and while he cautions that he does not speak for the board, he said he opposes the pot tax.
"It isn't right to keep picking on the same entity. It's a punitive tax on certain people, and enough is enough," Warner said.
The county commissioners sat down with the Eagle-Vail board in August, just as the marijuana tax idea was beginning to gain momentum.
That's about the time Eagle-Vail was deciding whether to take a second try at its own general sales tax, a proposal that lost last November by fewer than two dozen votes in an election that saw more than 1,400 ballots cast. The Eagle-Vail board ultimately decided against floating its own sales tax question in next week's election.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, some advocated that because they're about 20 percent of Eagle County's population, they should get 20 percent of the money. Eagle County is still focused on bringing treatment and facilities to the Roaring Fork Valley, but it will not be a set percentage, Lindley said.
Follow the money
The commissioners want to add a tax on recreational marijuana as a way to expand mental health services and programs in the county.
The tax would begin at 2.5 percent and increase to 5 percent over the next few years. It would generate an estimated $1 million to $2 million annually. It is estimated that visitors to the county would pay 60 percent of the tax. Medical marijuana products would be exempt.
Any money above $1.2 million would be committed to community programs, said Bryan Treu, Eagle County attorney and interim county manager.
"The resolution setting the ballot committed those funds to community programs. Although technically not in the ballot, a future board would have a hard time and be subject to challenge if they went against the resolution putting the question to the voters," Treu said.
The commissioners who comprise the board from year to year would determine what those community programs are. It is not spelled out specifically in the ballot language, Treu said.
"We did not want to determine today what the community needs would be in the future," Treu said.
A 36-member oversight committee will make recommendations about how that first $1.2 million in marijuana tax money would be spent. The commissioners would not spend the money without a recommendation from a committee of experts, ranging from mental and behavioral health specialists to local law enforcement.
The Vail Daily first reported in September that the marijuana tax revenue would be prioritized to fund three umbrella mental and behavioral health programs to be operated by Mind Springs Health, including a social detox center, crisis stabilization beds that are licensed by the state and respite care for those living with a mental illness.
The county also previously stated that two buildings proposed for locations in Edwards and Basalt would be constructed to house these new programs. The facilities themselves would not be constructed with tax revenue. Instead, the federally qualified Mountain Valley Health Centers would run a separate capital campaign to build the facilities.
As conversations about the potential tax revenue have continued, more partner organizations have come on board and the plan for the money has evolved to include the following, in addition to the above-mentioned goals:
• Working with the school district to bring in school-based clinicians. They'll work with kids who have mental health challenges or issues in the school district. Right now when children are identified as at risk for mental health issues, sometimes help can be a two-week to two-month wait, or it's not available at all, Lindley said.
• Bringing in mental health counselors to the county jail, where currently 70 percent of the inmates are on psychotropic drugs.
• Providing funds to the Hope Center in Basalt to help transition that facility to a licensed crisis stabilization unit.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.