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Pot debate continues in Orchard City

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Orchard City Town Board members are expressing second thoughts about allowing marijuana businesses in town as a way to generate more tax revenue for town government.

Speaking at the town board's June 14 meeting, trustee Craig Fuller expressed his opposition to the town board taking unilateral action and allowing marijuana business because it would be against the express will of the people, and he offered an alternative plan.

Trustee Dick Kirkpatrick said that all options concerning the marijuana tax issue should be looked at.

Trustee Gary Tollefson questioned the basic wisdom of depending on tax revenue from marijuana because it is a commodity. He explained that revenue from taxing it can go down because of market factors beyond the town board's control.

In addition, town resident Tim Hinz asked the trustees to reconsider their inclinations toward allowing marijuana business in town, and he offered to serve on a citizen committee to investigate the issue of raising money from other sources for town government operations.

The discussion at the town board's June meeting was prompted by an agenda item dealing with an anticipated report on town government revenue from marijuana business. Trustees Tom Huerkamp and Gynee Thomassen have been tasked to produce the report which Mayor Ken Volgamore indicated will be completed in July.

Fuller, a strong opponent of marijuana businesses in Orchard City, reminded his trustee colleagues of a meeting last February where the town's residents turned out to express strong opposition to the issue of marijuana business as a source of government revenue.

"We have no right to override the will of the people expressed in February," Fuller said. He went on to offer an idea that a town resident had proposed to him that same day -- the idea of forming a "marijuana control district."

The idea, as discussed at the meeting, would allow voters to impose a tax on themselves by forming a special district. The district and the tax would exist for the specific purpose of generating a specific amount of money for town government and be used for specific, stated purposes. The district and its tax would exist for only a limited time and then it would sunset. The special district would provide an alternative source for money that officials now say only a tax on marijuana businesses can provide.

Fuller explained that people "would allow their property to be taxed to get the revenue." The idea would allow people to "put their money where their mouth is" and provide a way of saying, "No. I don't want marijuana in this town."

Fuller's comments shifted the whole discussion from the marijuana issue and focused it instead on taking a detailed look at the amount of money town officials say only a marijuana tax can provide. (See related story).

Trustee Dick Kirkpatrick acknowledged that "We need to look at everything before we move forward."

Tollefson gave the town board another new idea to consider concerning the issue. He explained that attaching the town's revenue needs to a stream of revenue from a market priced commodity such as legalized marijuana may not be the best idea. That is because the price of the commodity and the revenue from it can go down. The town has seen that exact thing happen with coal. And, it is the very same situation that has caused declines in revenue from the state gasoline tax. "The law of supply and demand" is at work in commodity markets, Tollefson noted. "Commodities are subject to things beyond our control."

In addition, Orchard City resident Tim Hinz asked the trustees to reconsider the idea of marijuana business in town as a means of generating more government revenue. He made the following points:

• Delta County as a whole has voted against marijuana.

• The market price of marijuana has decreased over 40 percent in Colorado since legalization, making it a less reliable source of future revenue. The hoped-for "golden glove might not be so golden," he said.

• Other sources of revenue exist, such as enterprise zones, taxes, and mill levies.

• Hinz said the trustees should aim to "create a city that is good, for good, for families and businesses," and he offered to serve on a citizen committee to look for ways to bridge a projected town revenue gap.

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