By Lisa Young

Staff writer

The town of Paonia approved the latest Back the Badge ballot initiative and looked over proposed ballot language on retail marijuana during its July 28 regular meeting.

Trustees approved the second countywide ballot initiative to raise sales taxes to support local law enforcement. The first initiative in 2019 failed leaving law enforcement without the funds it said are needed.

Despite not passing last year, the town board did make increases in the budget to fund the department. If the new initiative passes, Paonia could receive 7% of the total tax amount collected.

“What we’re asking is that the board support the town and the police department’s ability to continue to participate with the other jurisdictions and bring back information on what the town’s plans are for the use of those funds,” said Corinne Ferguson, town administrator.

Ferguson said preliminary plans include proper staffing and more community outreach. She said the Paonia police department continues to be the lowest paid department in the county despite having the highest cost of living. She said Paonia is also the only department in the county to provide a resource officer to its schools.

Trustee Karen Budinger said because of the current “defund the police” the measure may have a harder time passing and getting information on the initiative to the public is vital.

Modifications to last year’s ballot initiative include lowering the tax rate from a 1% sales tax increase to .80% and placing a 10-year sunset provision on the measure. Complete details and the specific language on the countywide measure has not been finalized and numerous questions remain as to how the county and municipalities will spend the money. Delta, Hotchkiss and Cedaredge have already shown support for the new Back the Badge resolution.

After a brief discussion, trustees voted to send the retail marijuana proposed ballot language back to the government affairs and public safety committee for more tooling.

Paonia Town Attorney Bo Nerlin presented the board with draft language for a single ballot question and a draft that showed two separate ballot questions.

According to information in the board packet, the town would ask voters to approve retail marijuana and retail marijuana products within the town limits and impose a 3% occupation tax. The measure also asks voters to approve a steady increase in the tax without further voter approval not to exceed 10%. Tax money would be earmarked for infrastructure (repairs on streets, sidewalks, water, sewer) through 2025 at which time the town could spend the funds however it chose.

While Nerlin commended the committee on the ballot language, he said it did not address the issue of medical marijuana.

“The sale and/or taxation of medical marijuana is an issue I believe either the board or the committee should consider. Provided there is Board direction and/or consensus on the appropriate ballot language, the next step would be to introduce an ordinance adopting the ballot language,” Nerlin stated in his written report.

Cindy Jones, financial officer, recommended the board consider placing the tax money into the general fund to avoid “tying the town’s hands.” Mayor Mary Bachran and Budinger preferred the “pot for potholes” concept that would show the public where the money would be spent.

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