Two CBCS school therapists first to benefit
[ By Mark Reaman ]
The Crested Butte town council approved a formal policy earlier this month on how to distribute revenues collected through the town’s nicotine tax. The first major beneficiary was the Crested Butte Community School which on Monday, September 19 received a $140,000 grant from the town to pay for two embedded clinical therapists in the Crested Butte school.
Under the approved policy resolution, the town “will seek to expend the annual revenues from the Nicotine Tax for the purposes of funding harmful substance abuse prevention, cessation and treatment; and (help provide) access to mental health programs and service. The primary consideration will be to funding programs or projects that focus on these purposes among the youth and young adults in the Crested Butte community.”
The nicotine tax started in 2020 and adds $3 to a pack of cigarettes and 40% on the sales price of all other tobacco products. In the first year it collected $157,064. In 2021, $203,158 was collected and this year it is estimated revenues will total about $212,000 despite only three businesses in town selling nicotine products.
Town manager Dara MacDonald said it was important to formally spell out where the nicotine tax money would be spent so it did not simply become part of the town’s general fund. In the last two years, council awarded grants consistent with the purpose of the fund generation but did not formally allocate the money to the specific purpose. For example, CB State of Mind and Project Hope both received funds for projects from nicotine tax revenues.
Town staff and council representatives met this summer with members of the Gunnison Watershed School District, Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project, Gunnison County Juvenile Services, and Gunnison Valley Health to talk about potential use of the excise tax revenue. All agreed that there were many challenges with local young people when it came to substance abuse in the valley.
At the September 19 council meeting, school district superintendent Leslie Nichols spoke to not just the student benefit but overall community benefits of having two mental health professionals in the school. “When funds are committed as upstream as possible – meaning youth as the priority – then the returns on the investment in the future are strongest,” she conveyed to the council.
Parent Ali Johnson said the grant would be money well spent. “It can be scary to go to therapy. This will help children and save lives,” she said. “Using funds from the nicotine tax for this purpose is a no brainer.”
County Juvenile Services director Kari Commerford said that local studies indicate that youth take up vaping to manage stress and then can’t stop. She encouraged the council to support the request making it clear it would go toward total community health starting with local youth.
With councilmember Anna Fenerty dissenting on adopting the new policy at the September 6 meeting, council adopted the formal policy on how to distribute nicotine tax revenues. At the September 19 meeting, Fenerty and councilmember Jason MacMillan were not in attendance and the rest of the council voted to approve the $140,000 grant request.