“We haven’t seen the pitchforks come out yet…”
The march toward putting an initiative on the November ballot to raise Crested Butte sales tax a half percent continues.
A final meeting taking the temperature of the general public was held last Thursday, May 29. From the feedback, it appears the majority of those who attended the series of meetings favors the increase to help pay for Parks and Recreation maintenance.
According to now former Parks and Rec director Jake Jones, the staff conducted exit surveys after each of the meetings. From those surveys, 92 percent of the respondents said town parks were “very important” to them. Thirty-three percent of those taking part in the surveys live in Crested Butte, while the rest reside in nearby Gunnison County subdivisions such as Crested Butte South or Skyland.
“Eighty-five percent of the people indicated that a .5 percent sales tax dedicated for park funding was their preferred choice for funding,” Jones said. “That was selected from a menu of choices including a regional mill levy, a town mill levy, the town sales tax, service reduction, an excise tax on retail marijuana sales and an increase in program fees.”
“The meetings haven’t drawn a lot of people but they have had great discussion and debate over the pros and cons of raising the sales tax,” he said. “Our public is smart and they are asking the tough questions and trying to look at all the angles. These meetings are helping to give context to the discussion. We haven’t seen any pitchforks come out yet.”
Town finance director Lois Rozman said people become a bit uncomfortable when thinking the sales tax in town could go over the 9 or 10 percent threshold. “That seems to be the breaking point and this half percent would make sales tax in town come in at 9 percent,” she said. “The half percent will address some issues. It won’t have us rolling in the dough but it will allow us to move ahead with our projected plans.”
“I’ve heard people say that if we pass this, we should get something like a swimming pool,” commented Councilperson Chris Ladoulis.
“That won’t happen,” said Jones. “Those kinds of things—whether it’s a pool or rink refrigeration or turf for the soccer field—won’t be on the menu immediately with a half percent increase.”
“The pool idea is very expensive and is more of a regional question,” added town manager Todd Crossett.
“There was not a huge turnout at any of the meetings, but the word was out there,” he continued. “The next step is for the staff to make a formal recommendation to the council and the council will decide whether to proceed with a ballot question for the fall. “
“I want to keep the excise tax iron in the fire,” said Matusewicz. “Excise taxes on marijuana have all passed around the state. I know it won’t fund the numbers we are talking but if it can bring in an extra $60,000 or $80,000 it might be worth pursuing.”
“I think you can only have so many things on the ballot,” responded Councilperson Glenn Michel. “If we ask for a sales tax increase and an excise tax and perhaps a school district mill levy override, not everything will be approved. It could muddy the waters.
“I just want to remind the council that we will be deciding whether or not to give the opportunity to the people to decide,” Michel stated. “This will not be us voting on a sales tax increase as their representatives, but a chance at direct democracy. It will be up to them to decide.”
The Town Council will discuss that option at the June 16 meeting.