Pot tax revenues start in 2018, but the real work starts now, proponents say
EAGLE — The day after Election Day, Chris Lindley was smiling as he picked up campaign signs. It’ll be his easiest task for the foreseeable future, after helping pass Eagle County’s new marijuana tax.
Ballot Measure 1A passed with 8,151 votes, 74 percent of the 11,056 ballots cast in the Tuesday, Nov. 7, election.
“This is the first step. We passed the tax, but now the real work begins,” Lindley, Eagle County’s human services director, said Wednesday, Nov. 8. “I think it’s clear that the community has spoken.”
The countywide tax on recreational marijuana could generate an estimated $2 million annually for Eagle County’s coffers. Of that, the first $1.2 million is supposed to be spent on mental health and substance abuse programs in the Eagle River and Roaring Fork valleys.
The rest would be committed to community programs. Those programs have not been identified because the current commissioners do not want to restrict future boards, said Bryan Treu, Eagle County attorney and interim county manager.
MENTAL HEALTH MONEY
Under state law, the county cannot begin collecting its tax until after the first of the year.
Before that, there is an immense amount of work to do, Lindley said.
“It’s important that we assess and understand all of the needs across the Eagle River and Roaring Fork valleys,” Lindley said.
Right now, Eagle County’s share of state marijuana revenue is $250,000 annually, money raised from the state’s 10 percent sales tax and 15 percent excise tax. That covers administrative costs associated with licensing local dispensaries, and not much else, according to the county’s finances.
Eagle County’s specific marijuana sales and excise taxes will be phased in. Each is scheduled to start at 2.5 percent and cap at 5 percent. These taxes will be layered on top of the county’s existing 4 percent sales tax on all retail products and the state taxes.
While the state does provide data on marijuana sales tax collected within Eagle County, no such data exists for excise tax collections associated with cultivation, Treu explained.
However, based on the state’s 2016 sales tax numbers, Eagle County would have collected $350,000 in marijuana sales taxes at the 2.5 percent rate.
With the county’s overall sales taxes growing at about 10 percent a year for the past few years, Treu calculates that the county will collect around $400,000 in 2018 from its new voter-approved marijuana sales tax. That number will grow in coming years, since the county has only six of eight available store licenses currently operating.
Because the state does not provide county-by-county tax data on grow operations, excise taxes are slightly more nebulous.
Treu said they expect excise taxes on cultivation operations to be about the same as the sales taxes. That, too, will grow as Eagle County issues new cultivation licenses.
That puts the 2018 funding level in the $700,000 to $800,000 range, at 2.5 percent for both sales and excise taxes, Treu said.
THE WORK BEGINS NOW
The advisory committee is three-dozen members strong and meets officially for the first time Tuesday, Nov. 14, when they’ll begin mapping the way forward in detail. That process will be public, and the community will be invited, Lindley said.
Among the members is the Concerted Care Group, which is opening a drug and alcohol rehab center in Cordillera.
“Concerted Care Management Group takes pride in supporting the improvement of the lives, families and communities in which we have the privilege to serve,” said the Concerted Care Group’s Jeff Brooks. “As we have worked strategically to build partnerships in the Eagle County area, we have been honored to share in the discussions that have surrounded this initiative. We have also been attuned to the pressing needs of the community.”
The committee’s work will be public, Lindley again stressed.
“There will be no secrets,” Lindley said. “This is the community’s money.”
County officials are also asking the public for ideas.
“If there is something we have not thought of, we’d love to hear about it,” Lindley said. “If we had all the answers this would already be solved.”