Basalt council stays neutral on Eagle County marijuana tax ballot question
The Basalt Town Council declined to consider Tuesday night whether to endorse a ballot question by Eagle County to tax recreational marijuana sales to raise revenue for mental health services.
Basalt officials said they want a commitment that 20 percent of the revenue from the tax will fund mental health services in the Roaring Fork Valley. The Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county accounts for about 20 percent of its population.
Eagle County officials said Basalt is seeking special treatment. The county hasn’t made promises to Vail or any other subsection of the county about spending of revenue from the tax, said interim county manager Bryan Treu.
The question is on the Nov. 7 ballot, which has already been mailed to Eagle County residents. The marijuana tax proposal is Question 1A on the ballot.
Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt led the move for no formal action by the council.
“Even though I plan to vote for this, I have a hard time having a big party and a rah-rah for it,” Whitsitt said.
She claimed the problem is that the western side of Eagle County, which includes El Jebel, parts of Missouri Heights and the Fryingpan Valley and some of Basalt, doesn’t always get its fair share of revenue from proposed new taxes.
“I feel it would be very easy for them to say, ‘Yeah, the stepchild can have their share,’” Whitsitt said. “They would not do that.”
Whitsitt said she believes the seated county commissioners would make sure the Roaring Fork Valley area will get its fair share, but she wasn’t sure about the future.
Treu said the county commissioners haven’t made specific plans on spending the revenue. A community advisory board comprised of mental health experts will be created to advise the county on spending, if the measure passes.
“It’s quite possible Roaring Fork ends up with more than what (Whitsitt) is asking for,” Treu said.
The panel will include representatives from the Roaring Fork Valley, he noted.
The commissioners made “increasing mental health and substance abuse services” part of its 2017 Area of Focus for the county government. There is an increasing demand for services, and residents currently must travel one to two hours for a broad spectrum of services.
The commissioners are seeking the tax on recreational marijuana as a way to boost services within the county.
Campaign material in favor of the ballot question says a tax rate of 2.5 percent would be implemented at the start and raised to 5 percent over time. 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.
While the campaign literature and ballot language don’t include any binding wording on spending in the Roaring Fork Valley, the pro-approval website http://www.mentalhealthvoteyes.com says, “The new tax will address the shortage of treatment services for mental illness and substance abuse in the Eagle River and Roaring Fork valleys.”
The site further states that in the Roaring Fork Valley “we will be working with the Hope Center to expand their services and help transition them to a licensed crisis stabilization unit.”
Revenue will be used immediately to add mental health counselors and screeners in area schools and mental health counselors will be added to the Eagle County Jail.
Treu said the point that proponents have stressed is that the tax would benefit everyone in Eagle County seeking mental health services.
High Country columnist Katie Shapiro looks back at the legacy of legalization pioneer and Pitkin County Sherriff Bob Braudis, who died June 3 at 77.
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