Commissioners ponder ballot question for Eagle County marijuana sales tax

EAGLE — It’s fairly likely the Eagle County Commissioners this year will ask voters to tax retail marijuana sales and the growth of marijuana. But one big question remains: Will any of that money be dedicated to housing?

At the moment, Eagle County doesn’t impose taxes on marijuana sold or grown in the county. In fact, the Colorado Legislature only this year granted counties that authority — and then only with voters’ permission. Counties now share a portion of state tax collections. Eagle County’s share in 2016 was less than $250,000.

A proposal being developed now would impose a 5 percent sales tax on recreational sales and a 5 percent excise tax on marijuana grown in the county for recreational use. If voters approve, then money would be allocated to mental health facilities, community grants and law enforcement. But two of the three commissioners remain skeptical about using any of the money for housing.

Sales and excise taxes would raise about $2.75 million in the first year. Those funds would be stretched thin.

County health department director Chris Lindley told the commissioners that creating a “one-stop” mental health facility could cost the county between $1.5 million and $2 million per year to operate.

Undersheriff Mike McWilliam said adding enough employees to run the jail expansion that was finished in 2008 would cost roughly $400,000 per year.

Those figures at the moment are written in pencil and subject to change. Still, there wouldn’t be much left for community grants or housing projects.

Strong skepticism

Two of the three commissioners — Jill Ryan and Kathy Chandler-Henry — remain skeptical about going to voters this year with another housing proposal.

The commissioners in 2016 asked voters for a 0.3 percent sales tax increase for housing efforts. If passed, then the tax would have generated an estimated $5 million in its first year.

The county’s business community backed the proposal, but voters disagreed, and the ballot…

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