Aspen Ballot Issue 2A: Voters approve of city keeping excess tobacco tax
Aspen voters resoundingly decided in Tuesday’s election to allow the city to keep excess revenue from taxes on tobacco products.
With 1,664 votes in favor and 424 against reported at 11 p.m., city voters passed Ballot Question 2A, which allows the municipal government to keep all revenue from a voter-approved tax in 2017.
It started last year as a $3 tax on a pack of cigarettes and a 40% hike on all other tobacco products — including cigars, e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
The tax escalates 10 cents each year until it reaches $4.
The city anticipated it would collect $325,000 annually but it turned out that an additional $111,622 came in over that estimate in 2018.
Last year’s additional money is subject to TABOR limitations and had to either be returned to taxpayers, or the government could keep it with the blessing of city voters.
With Tuesday’s approval to retain excess revenue, the city does not have to go back to ask again if the government collects more than $325,000 in any given year.
City Finance Director Pete Strecker confirmed that as of Monday, the city had collected $357,000 in tobacco taxes so far this year.
The revenue is earmarked specifically for financing health and human services, tobacco-related health issues, and addiction and substance abuse education, according to CJ Oliver, the city’s environmental health and sustainability director.
Aspen City Council in August agreed to release most of the $436,600 in the tobacco tax coffer toward a plan that tackles substance abuse, addiction and prevention targeted at local youth and their parents.
It will be done in partnership with the Aspen School District through an intergovernmental agreement, according to Oliver.
“We’ve asked them to put a plan together with a menu of items, or a suite of different options and costs that will be presented (to council),” he said Tuesday before the election results. “Then we will build the IGA around the list.”
The multi-year plan is designed to fill a gap in services that was discovered as health specialists and government officials worked on the tobacco tax two years ago, and the ban on all flavored tobacco and vaping products earlier this year.
Katherine Sand, director of Aspen Family Connections at the school district, is currently working on the plan and expects to have it ready by the beginning of the year.
“The city of Aspen funding really gives us the ability to be creative. … It takes time; we want to do this properly,” she said Tuesday. “The idea of the city and the Aspen School District collaborating is a quite far-reaching prevention plan.”
Filling in the gaps means providing community-based services to families throughout the district, from preschool to parent education and all of the students in between.
“People are hungry for it and we know the demand is there,” she said.
Sand noted that the principles behind prevention are aimed at how parents and students think, feel and act.
“It’s building resiliency and relationships, and healthy decision-making,” she said. “If there is stuff going on at home kids will find ways to cope.”
That’s where providing extracurricular activities and developing community connections fill in gaps of services to assist families and youth.
“Ultimately, it’s a cost-effective way to approach these issues,” Sand said. “This is a solid investment in the future, families and the community.”
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