CO: County Commissioners Order Two Budgets Because Of Anti-Pot Initiative

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The Pueblo County commissioners have asked department heads to create two budget scenarios for 2017 – one showing projected revenue from marijuana sales and excise tax and another without.

The county is preparing for the results of the November ballot measure that could eliminate the sale and production of retail marijuana in Pueblo County.

“We are very early in the budget process, but we have talked with the commissioners about us having a plan with two scenarios of the budget – if it passes and if it doesn’t pass,” said Aimee Tihonovich, director of budget and finance for the county.

“We have to come up with a way to cut the budget. It’s going to be a budget cut because we develop a base budget. I try to project our revenues and we’ve gotten pretty good at doing that.”

Tihonovich said if the marijuana initiative passes, she will have to cut department budgets based on revenue that would be lost.

Commissioner Sal Pace said the cost to the general fund would be $2.5 million from lost marijuana sales tax alone.

“We’d have to cover roughly another $3 million in excise tax expenditures,” Pace said.

Pace said $200,000 would be lost annually toward Pueblo West roads and the county would have a permanent structural loss to all of its departments and elected officials of $1.8 million annually.

“That is not a small number. That represents enough to fund the salary and benefits for approximately 31 full-time county employees,” Pace said.

Tihonovich said the current general fund also supports five full-time employees, including two county assessor employees and three planning and development employees.

“Marijuana contributes to our general fund. It came at a time, thankfully, when our revenues were down and it helped us with the recovery through sales tax collected,” Tihonovich.

“We have several projects in the works that the excise tax supports that we would have to stop,” Tihonovich said.

The commissioners approved a partnership with the Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation to administer the Pueblo County Scholarship Fund using pot excise tax dollars to match state funding from the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative. The organization selected 25 scholarship recipients with an award amount of $2,000 each.

Voters approved a county excise tax on the first sale of unprocessed retail marijuana on retail marijuana cultivation facilities located in Pueblo County in November.

Half of the excise tax proceeds fund the Pueblo County Scholarship Fund; the other half goes into a fund for capital projects related to community development.

In May, the commissioners approved using the excise tax to help fund new playground equipment in Pueblo’s popular Runyon Sports (baseball) Complex. The county also approved a local matching fund of $50,000 from excise tax to add sidewalks near North Mesa Elementary School.

Tuesday, the commissioners announced that Pueblo West, which has the most retail pot facilities in Pueblo County, is getting a $200,000 grant from a marijuana sales tax to repair roads in the community.

“We committed three years worth of expected collections. We came up with three years of projects for the excise tax so we could make a bigger impact to the community,” Tihonovich said.

“We expected to pay for it over the years, so if it goes away, we are going to be hurting.”

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: County Commissioners Order Two Budgets Because Of Anti-Pot Initiative
Author: Anthony A. Mestas
Contact: (719) 544-3520
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Website: The Pueblo Chieftain