Orchard City residents speak on pot, finances

By Hank Lohmeyer


Residents of Orchard City filled town hall to standing room to tell town board members their views on increasing government revenues and allowing marijuana business to operate there.

A trend of declining revenues the town is experiencing is contributing to depleted cash reserves in town budget funds including the water fund and roads fund, a trustee report has concluded.

The trustee report offered several ideas for increasing government revenues: raise water rates, ask voters to approve a first ever sales tax, and allow retail and/or commercial and wholesale marijuana businesses to operate in the town to generate tax revenue for town government.

A special work session was called for Feb. 1 at which local residents were invited to give their views on the issues. The following speaker comments are taken from that meeting and given in the order of presentation with names in some cases transcribed from sign-up sheet signatures.

Rick Schaefer said, "I am against any type of pot industry" adding that "it drags down the morality of our society." On the issue of the water utility he said, "Everyone needs to chip in," to keep it viable.

Steve Ward said, "People are concerned about retail [marijuana] sales. Where would they be located? I don't think anyone wants it next to them" in a residential area.

Tawnya Calhoon said that she grew up in Orchard City and wants to establish a production/wholesale/retail marijuana business operation in the town.

Paris A. Boyer said she is okay with raising water rates and a sales tax proposal, but that she is against pot.

Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee said, "I've been fighting this battle since day one." He pointed out, "People already have access to marijuana if they want it." He noted that other county's municipalities are having revenue problems just as Orchard City is experiencing, but they have "stood up and said no" to marijuana and found other ways to deal with their problems.

The sheriff cited the City of Pueblo as an example of hopes shattered by the promise of marijuana money. Pueblo "allows all forms of marijuana enterprise," he said. Since embracing marijuana as a solution to its economic problems, Pueblo has seen increases in criminal organizations relocating to the area, three times as much black market activity, rental properties used for grow operations being destroyed, increased complaints of marijuana odor and traffic, and firearms offenses that have increased.

Locally, McKee said his department busted a pot-based crime ring in Eckert last year that involved local credit card fraud. Delta County is already seeing an increase in pot-based organized crime activity. Finally, McKee noted Paonia's experience where a ballot proposal to legalize marijuana was defeated by a public campaign organized by the town's youth who didn't want it in their community.

At least two other speakers during the evening stated their agreement with the sheriff's remarks.

EJ Verdahl of Cory said she will organize a recall effort if trustees raise water rates. She noted that pot is already in the community now so why not get some revenue from it.

Daniel Flemming, an Orchard City native and Navy veteran, said, "Orchard City is the most unique place I've ever seen." He loves the town and cautioned trustees against "unintended consequences" of their decision and of marijuana's negative effects on youth.

Dave Burgess told trustees that "the last eight years have been tough for everyone... Suck it up, guys, and make it work." If a sales tax issue is put on the ballot, 2.5 percent would be too high.

Ken Sodowski advised that using local water resources for growing marijuana might create legal entanglements with the federal government. Marijuana is illegal under federal law.

Richard Grant has lived in Orchard City for two and a half years since retiring here. He said a sales tax and higher water rates are okay, but he is against marijuana "due to the children of the area." He said he has a 15-year-old grandson in Denver who is hooked on marijuana because "he can get it anywhere he wants to."

Brandon Yadon said that a town sales tax would impact his garden supply store at Austin because he competes with the internet where the same products are available.

Tim Hines sympathized with the town's economic difficulties saying that he is a small business owner who has had to "lay myself off two times and then rehire myself back at lower pay." He said he is against the marijuana idea and noted the mental and social problems linked to it. If marijuana is approved, other problems would follow. "Why should Orchard City accept marijuana when even Paonia has rejected it?" he asked.

Jason Laurence noted there are 100-plant marijuana grows in Orchard City now. He said he is okay with raising water rates.

Sara Hineke is a CNA going for her RN. She moved here from San Antonio, Texas. She said that marijuana has some medical benefits. A mother of five children, she said kids should be educated about marijuana as they are about cigarettes and alcohol.

Paul Kehmeier said, "I'm opposed to marijuana." He is willing to pay higher taxes if necessary. "The water system should pay for itself," he said.

Doug Speedie, a physician, said alcohol is by far the biggest drug problem in the county. Pot is here already and the community should benefit from it. On the issue of a sales tax for roads, he said people won't vote to increase their taxes for infrastructure maintenance.

Mike Gage pointed out that the town has

encountered economic problems in past and "you have always worked it out somehow." He advised the town board "should try and save money and look at what you can cut in expenses."

Matt Soper presented a review of the failed marijuana ballot initiatives in Delta County. He urged that town trustees "respect the will of the people" in town and in neighboring communities. Voters in Orchard City and Delta County have repeatedly rejected marijuana. He also urged that any marijuana decision first be put to a public vote.

Dwight Benson said, "I am anti-tax. I have to deal with it on a daily basis." He said he would rather see a small increase in water rates than a sales tax.