The ballots, which will be mailed out mid-October, will determine three different local marijuana excise taxes on the transfer from growers to retailers, renewing the half-cent sales tax and a one-cent sales tax to build a new county jail.
Ballot 1A: Construction of a new jail
Over the course of 10 years, the one cent sales tax increase would generate enough money to better fund the Pueblo Sheriff’s Department, according to Sheriff Kirk Taylor who submitted the ballot question.
Specifically, Taylor told council last month the major goal of the ballot is to fund a new county jail, which Pueblo Police also uses because the agency doesn’t have one. At one point in September, Taylor said there were 690 inmates in the 509 capacity jail. Taylor called the jail unsafe for his staff not only because of the number of inmates but because of the jail’s configuration.
“I have such a fantastic staff the public doesn’t understand what’s going on in there,” Taylor told city council. “It’s not safe for my people, but I’ve got good people.”
In 10 years, the tax would raise approximately $180 million with $140 million going toward the new jail.
While Pueblo wouldn’t see a new jail for at least 10 years, the sales tax increase would help fund other areas of county public safety such as hirings, updating equipment, training and supplies.
Last year Fremont County passed a 1 cent sales tax increase to fund its public safety, and El Paso County passed a similar measure in 2013, but Pueblo said no to a half-cent sales tax ballot question last election that would have helped Pueblo Police and the Pueblo Fire Department hire more staff and replace outdated equipment. That ballot question was defeated by 74 percent of city residents.
“I’ve tried to do it (plan funding for a new jail) for less than a penny. You can’t do it,” Taylor said. “If it doesn’t pass this year, I’ll run it again.”
Ballot 1B: Marijuana excise tax
The media coverage that surrounds this ballot question is due to the fact that half of the money, starting in 2017, would go toward scholarships for Pueblo students attending college in Pueblo. County Commissioner Sal Pace told the Denver Post he hopes the scholarships “will give Pueblo kids a boost.”
Other projects the county would like to fund with the excise tax, which would be levied on marijuana leaving a grow facility to a store, include refurbishing the streetscape at the Colorado State Fairgrounds, building school routes on the Mesa and in Pueblo West, funding research grants related to marijuana, funding a feasibility study of extending the Southwest Chief to Pueblo, funding a Hwy 50 impact study and restoring the dome at the county courthouse.
The county also hopes the revenue will fund education and recreation by building a pavilion at Confluence Park, building an atrium at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, upgrading Desert Hawk Golf Course, enhancing Beulah Elementary’s playground and repairing trails at Lake Pueblo State Park. Lastly, the money would be used for creating an energy efficiency agency, studying water supply needs and any general infrastructure needs the county may have.
It’s a lengthy list, but the tax would produce around $3.5 million annually when completely phased in. The measure is a 5 percent excise tax on all grow facilities in Pueblo County, which are currently not taxed by the county. If passed, the excise tax would raise 1 percent each year until it reaches 5 percent.
Opponents of the measure say that a 29 percent tax rate on recreational marijuana is already too high, and the measure could hinder industry growth.
Ballot 1C: Keeping excess marijuana revenue
Pueblo County is asking residents if it should keep the excess $148,043 of revenue made from the sales tax of recreational marijuana. The money, if kept, would be used to improve parks within the county including McHarg Park, Runyon Sports Complex, Rye Mountain Park, the trails at Pueblo West’s Liberty Point and John Arellano Park.
If Ballot 1B fails, all county residents will receive a one-time $1.48 credit on their property tax statements.
Ballot Issue 1D: Marijuana excise tax
Pueblo West is proposing an excise tax on retail marijuana very similar to what Pueblo County is proposing. The main differences is that the Pueblo West excise tax on marijuana transfers from growers to shops would top out at 3 percent (the county tax is a 5 percent excise tax).
The other difference is that the county clearly spells out what they want to achieve with the revenue. Pueblo West, because it’s a metro district, is a different type of government. The money can only be used for the service plan.
“It (the service plan) is very specific,” said Harley Gifford, General Counsel for the metro district. “It’s adding money to those services (in the service plan).”
City of Pueblo
Question No. 2A: Renewing the half-cent sales tax
Since the 1980s in coordination with the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation, the city has used money raised from the half-cent sales tax fund to recruit companies to Pueblo that provide primary jobs, which usually translates into manufacturing jobs. Earlier this year, however, city council broadened the definition of primary jobs to include tourism jobs.
PEDCO does the recruiting and vetting of the companies and city council approves PEDCO’s recommendations.
A vote yes on Question No. 2A extends the half-cent sales tax for five more years. A vote no halts the tax. Proponents of the half-cent sales tax say it brings jobs to Pueblo while those on the other side of the issue believe the jobs are low-paying and has held back economic growth in Pueblo.
Last summer, city council held town hall meetings across the city to discuss the possibility of using the half-cent money for city infrastructure after three former members considered asking voters to allow the funds to beautify the city. Those city council members believed improving roads and parts of the city infrastructure could be a selling point to more companies. But it was largely decided in the community that the funds should only be used for recruitment.
Question No. 2B: Marijuana excise tax
The City of Pueblo is also looking to create an excise tax on marijuana cultivators. If passed, growers in the city would pay an 8 percent tax on all retail marijuana that is transferred to a store. The ordinance would allow the city to increase or decrease the tax as long as it does not surpass 15 percent.