The Orchard City Board of Trustees held a town hall meeting Jan. 17 to discuss the ballot questions on the April ballot. Thirty people attended the meeting, including several trustees and Melissa Oelke, town clerk, who was present in an official capacity.
The meeting was an opportunity for Orchard City residents to learn more about the issues on the ballot.
Trustee Tom Huerkamp started the meeting with some history. In 2016, the Finance Committee, headed by Trustee Dick Kirkpatrick, began looking at the steadily declining assets in the town's funds. The national financial downturn in 2008-2009 became an issue locally by 2010-2011. The closure of the coal mines also created a downturn in federal minerals and severance taxes. Revenue from mining dropped from $146,000 to $14,000 a year.
The Finance Committee first looked at the Water Fund as a possible source to stem the tide of reduced revenue. There was an outcry from the Orchard City residents which kept the lower water rates in effect.
In 2016, a former Orchard City resident approached the board stating she had money to invest in the potential marijuana industry in the area. With comments pro and con regarding marijuana, it was decided by the trustees to put the marijuana tax proposal on the 2018 ballot, not to legalize marijuana, but to allow the citizens a chance to state their opinion on legalization by voting for or against the marijuana tax.
If the marijuana tax proposal is not voted in, it would give the incoming board of trustees a reason not to pursue the issue of legalization. If the vote is in favor of the tax, the new board would research the laws and state restrictions regarding implementing sales in Orchard City, which, in itself, could be a lengthy process.
Dave Woolley had questions on the marijuana taxes and how those monies would be used by the town. That issue would be addressed after the election, if the town approved the ballot question.
On the 3 percent sales tax proposal, funding would go, in part, to road maintenance and law enforcement, which have no other funding resources available.
Bill Morris requested numbers on the calculations presented. An estimated $60,780 would go to law enforcement, with an additional amount provided every four years by the town as a requirement to help fund additional costs, such as new vehicles.
A business owner in the town, identified as Mel (no last name given) stated he felt the figures presented were off and the estimate was a little high. Trustee Huerkamp replied that the information was provided by the State of Colorado. Mel said that Orchard City, having no sales tax, brings people from Delta and other surrounding areas to the town to shop. He asked that the board take a hard look on the tax issue.
Dave Stueck asked what the tax base would be if an Orchard City resident purchased an item, such as a car, in Grand Junction. It was stated that Orchard City would receive the tax. County commissioner Don Suppes mentioned that certain food items purchased by food stamp recipients and other government-funded programs would be exempt from the sales tax.
Another resident said the added sales tax might send shoppers out of the town to purchase items. Doug Keller asked that the town re-evaluate the need for a tax, feeling the town doesn't need it.
After several other comments, Trustee Bob Eckels requested that those present stick to the purpose of the town hall meeting. He reaffirmed the intent of the meeting was to explain the ballot issues and not to be a forum to argue for or against those issues. He stated that the issues were placed on the ballot to allow maximum voice from the citizens by way of voting.
Currently, the Town of Orchard City does not receive any monies from property taxes. The objective of the ballot issue on property taxes is to receive $130,000 in revenue for the town.
The three ballot issues are not tied together. One, two or all three could be passed. None could be voted in. The trustees encourage Orchard City residents to make their voice heard during the municipal election.