Crawford puts marijuana sales tax question to voters

By Randy Sunderland

Voters in the Town of Crawford will have a taxing question in the upcoming municipal election in April, although it will not add revenue to the town anytime soon. Last week the town council approved asking the voters to approve a 5 percent sales tax on marijuana sales within the Town of Crawford, with authority to increase this to up to 10 percent without further approval from the voters.

Crawford, like all other municipalities in Delta County, prohibits retail sales of medical and recreational marijuana. This ballot question would not authorize such sales, but would give the town the authority to tax such sales should they become legal in the future. In 2014 Paonia voters approved a 5 percent sales tax on marijuana sales but said no to a separate question which would have allowed commercial marijuana sales. In 2016 Hotchkiss voters did the same thing, approving a 2 percent sales tax on marijuana sales with authorization to increase it up to 10 percent without a further vote, while saying no to marijuana sales.

Voters in Delta and Orchard City will consider marijuana sales tax questions in the April election.

The Crawford council began this discussion at its Jan. 3 meeting, and continued it to the Jan. 17 meeting so the council could approve ballot questions prior to the Jan. 22 deadline. During the interim, town attorney Jim Brown prepared a resolution with a possible ballot question for them to consider. When Mayor Wanda Gofforth reconvened the meeting on Jan. 17, she advised the council that the town attorney said it could set the sales tax at whatever it wanted to.

Council member Jeff Peed was worried about estimating a specific dollar amount of increased revenue from the sales tax, noting that he would prefer to simply state the percent of sales tax and not attempt to estimate the amount of revenue it could generate. He felt this would confuse the issue more than necessary.

Chris Johnson agreed, "I just don't see how you can estimate the amount when we have nothing to base it on."

The council agreed it was unnecessary to state a dollar amount of estimated revenue in the questions.

Council then approved a motion put forth by Chriss Watters to set the sales tax amount at 5 percent, with a maximum of 10 percent before having to take it before the voters again. Council member John Paton voted against this motion. Earlier in the discussion he stated, "This is all unnecessary. You don't have any idea what is coming [regarding marijuana stores]. I don't think we need to be asking people to vote on another tax."

Jim Crook, in the audience, asked the council if it would be easier to establish marijuana stores in Crawford if the voters approve the sales tax on it? The mayor responded that it would not be any easier than it is in the other towns in the county which have adopted similar measures.

After approving the marijuana sales tax question, Mayor Gofforth asked council members what they were thinking about placing a question about a mill levy increase once again on the ballot. Voters have said no to mill levy increases in the past two elections, the latest in the general election last November.

Working around the table, Gofforth received a mixed message from council members. Most were opposed to the idea, so soon after failing. Mike Tiedeman favored asking the question again, noting that the squeaking wheel gets attention eventually, and that it would not cost the town anything to add the question to the April ballot. Jeff Peed had a contrary opinion, "Until the roads start to rot apart the voters are not going to approve it."

The mayor let the matter drop, so voters will only have the one taxing question to consider in the upcoming election. She then adjourned the regular meeting and convened the regularly scheduled work session.

County administrator Robbie LeValley was on hand to provide an update on the county's master plan update. She explained the last update to the county's master plan was in 1996, and the county had devoted a lot of resources to this current effort to gather as much input from the public as possible. Three community meetings, meetings with specific target groups, and online forms all generated a lot of input to be incorporated into the latest vision and goals. The updated plan is scheduled to go to the planning commission for consideration in mid-February.

LeValley said a couple of things have changed since 1996. She noted that recreation is now a required topic, so there is more emphasis. On the other hand, "while still important" there is less emphasis on private property rights as compared to 1996. Protection of agriculture is a critical element, and Delta County is trying to become more business friendly. These factors form the basis for the master plan, which influence what things look like from a land use stand point.

As part of the planning process, LeValley asked if the town has any issues or changes it would like to discuss as part of the IGA between the county and town. The IGA, or intergovernmental agreement, looks at the areas adjacent to the town limits where county regulations influence potential development. LeValley was asked if the county could provide a copy of the IGA.

The mayor added two items to the agenda for the next regular meeting on Feb. 7. The first item is related to the town attorney. Jim Brown is retiring after decades as the town's attorney, and the town has two proposals for his replacement.

The second item is a discussion of establishing a municipal court. Mayor Gofforth presented council members with minutes of meetings going back years, calling attention to the many different times the matter has been up for discussion.

The next meeting of the Crawford Town Council will be Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m.