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Core issues are paying for services, building reserve

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The marijuana tax issue for Orchard City is not simply one of somehow raising $1.2 million to fund government needs. Indeed, the answer lies in first deciding how to use $1.2 million that is already been raised through newly enacted water rates.

According to statements made by town board members at regular meetings and work sessions, the new water rates will generate $100,000 to $120,000 per year (up to $1.2 million over 10 years) -- money that is guaranteed and that can be budgeted.

Trustees want to earmark that money to build up a water utility disaster reserve which already has around $1 million in it. Their goal is build that reserve to $2 million -- banked for an unspecified possible water utility catastrophe and kept off limits to any other community needs.

At the same time, trustees maintain that a addition tax revenue is needed, such as from commercial marijuana, to operate the government, i.e. for maintaining roads and for other unspecified uses.

During the ongoing discussion on water rates, trustees looked at the option of using excess money in the water fund to help pay for the most pressing town road maintenance needs. At some point, that option quit being discussed.

Some of the excess funds from the water rate increase that are earmarked for reserves could instead still be used to pay for road maintenance, with the public's concurrence that doing so would avoid funding town government with marijuana. Additional funds for town roads would also be available from state gasoline tax receipts, general government revenues, and/or a voter adopted tax for the specific use and which would sunset (i.e., go out of existence) after a specific period of time.

The strategy of using a limited-time tax for doing road projects was used with great success by Delta County. In 2002, voters approved "de-Brucing" a portion of property tax revenue for use to improve specific county roads. The "de-Brucing" ended five years later. As a result, many county roads were rebuilt and improved and the commissioners did not ask voters to renew the program.

Orchard City town trustees who are proponents of commercial marijuana are convinced that Orchard City voters will not adopt a tax, even for a limited time, to raise money for town government. They say the reason is because voters turned down an ambulance district property tax increase proposal last year.

But the ambulance district tax hike proposal would have more than doubled property tax assessments in the district; it had no sunset provision but would have continued forever; it provided no specific plan for the use of money raised; and it would have removed Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) protections from new revenue raised, and would have also removed those protections from district revenue from any other source.

The Orchard City Town Board is projecting 10 years into the future for its justification to allow commercial marijuana business in town. Trustees estimate $1.2 million is the amount of money needed to maintain town streets over the next 10 years.

Proponents of commercial marijuana business maintain that neither a town property tax nor a sales tax would generate the needed $1.2 million ($120,000 per year) over 10 years.

And with trustees committed to building the town's water reserve, they are left looking for alternative ways to fund other essential services.

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