Voters will decide Nov. 2 whether to increase Park County’s sales tax by one percent to help fund the Park County Sheriff’s Office. The county commissioners approved a resolution placing it on the ballot Aug. 17.

Commissioner Dick Elsner said they had a robust discussion with the sheriff earlier but didn’t say what the discussion entailed.

The question states the money generated from the additional one percent sales tax is “to be used for the Park County Sheriff’s Office for enforcement services in Park County.”

The question has a 10 year sunset date. To continue after 2031, it will need to be approved again by voters.

The ballot question must state the amount that can be collected in the first year without having to refund any to county residents.  The amount listed is $3.2 million.

By comparison, the current one percent sales tax generated a little over $1.86 million last year and is forecast to collect over $2 million in 2021.  

Sales tax collection on internet sales began in mid-2019 and has continued to be the major revenue source since.  Elsner said the second largest source is short term rentals.

The question also states the county can collect, retain and spend all moneys collected each year that is over the amount of any Taxpayer Bill of Rights or TABOR limitation.

In other words, if passed, voters are exempting the sales tax from TABOR requirements, also called DeBrucing.

TABOR restricts annual revenue increases to growth plus the amount of inflation. By law, growth for local governments is defined as the annual new building construction. For the state, “grow” is defined as changes in population from the previous year.

Commissioner Amy Mitchell said she didn’t favor any tax increases, but since the Sheriff’s deputies spend a lot of time responding to short term rental 911 calls, she would let the voters decide whether to increase the county sales tax.

Commissioner Ray Douglas said the language was broad enough to allow spending it on what is needed, but narrow enough to not be a blank check.

The actual ballot question doesn’t limit what the revenue can be spent as long as it is for enforcement services.

The resolution states it “shall be used to fund 1) additional deputies, and support staff; 2) salaries and training; 3) equipment, maintenance, and operations related to the functions of law enforcement; 4) maintenance of the Park County Sheriff’s Office buildings and vehicles; 5) housing assistance; 6) supplemental funding for search and rescue equipment, maintenance, and operations related to the functions of law enforcement; 7) mental health services; 8) law enforcement peer support training; 9) state mandated body cameras equipment and operations; and 10) specialized law enforcement units such as traffic units.

During previous discussions, voters expressed concern that the sales tax would be used, not as supplemental funding over the amount paid by the county general fund, but over time would become the only funding for the sheriff’s office.

That issue was not addressed in the resolution as the commissioners had indicated it would be.

Section 22 of the resolution states “This Resolution and the sales tax adopted herein may be amended by subsequent resolution unless otherwise prohibited by law.”

Abstract of Assessment

Assessor Monica Jones presented the preliminary 2021 abstract of assessment. The document details the assessed property values for each kind of property use.  Property use is not necessarily the same as a property’s zoning.  

Assessed values are the percentage of a property’s actual value that is subject to property taxes.  

Jones said the total assessed value increased this year by $89 million over last year’s value.  

Last year’s total assessed property value was $480.5 million with $5.5 million of that in new construction.

This year’s total assessed value is $570.1 million with only a little less than $1 million in new construction.

Jones said the retreat built by the Lone Rock Foundation north of Bailey was included in the new construction amount, but as a nonprofit, it would not pay any property taxes.

Jones said the documents are sent to the state and to each taxing entity in the county. Each entity uses the assessed values to determine its mill levy for the next year.

Liquor licenses

Mule Creek Outfitters, Inc. received a beer and wine license for the M Lazy C Ranch. It is located on County Road 453, north of US Highway 24 and west of the intersection of Hwy. 24 and CR 77 also known as the Tarryall Road.

The new owners, Michael and Kelly Gottus, purchased the ranch last year. It hosts events including weddings, retreats and reunions. It also offers cabins and bunkhouses for rental to event guests and those vacationing at the dude ranch.

Kelly Gottus said alcohol would only be served with meals and each person would have a two drink limit.

The Lone Rock Foundation received a hotel restaurant liquor license for the new teacher retreat located north of US Highway 285 across from Roland Valley.   

Amy Dee, CEO of the Foundation, and Carmen LoTurco, Retreat Manager, represented the foundation at the liquor license hearing.

Dee said they would have self serve mini bars located in common areas. Guests will serve themselves during dinner and possibly during some outdoor trips.

She said the foundation will not charge a price for using the mini bars, but guests could not take alcohol from the mini bars to their rooms.

An open house is planned for sometime in September and will be announced at a later time.

Haying contract

Awarding a contract for a haying operation on county owned land was one of three items in the consent agenda.

As such, no one said anything about the haying contract and was approved by the approval of the consent agenda.  

Meeting minutes and vouchers are items in the consent agenda each week.

A staff report included with the agenda stated two bids had been received to cut grass hay in the Deer Creek meadow; property the county purchased a few years ago on Crow Hill.

The contract is for three years, with an annual renewal, for harvesting an estimated 15 to 30 tons per year.

Woodward Hi-Altitude Cattle bid $126 per ton. Crawford Family Enterprises bid $140 per ton.

The bid review committee recommended the award go to Crawford because the company had the highest bid per ton and provided more detail on the company than Woodward.

Both ranchers harvested hay on the property over the years when the property was owned by the Dozier family.

CUP revision

In 2019, Mountain Area Land Trust bought the property known as Beaver Ponds Environmental Education Center at the intersection on Busch Run and CR 14. The property is now called the Sacramento Creek Ranch.

MALT received approval for an amendment to the existing conference and retreat conditional use permit that allowed high altitude ranching and farming on the 70.6-acre residential parcel.

With the amended CUP, MALT will use the lot for high altitude research activities, researchers’ housing, educational activities and as a base for its land preservation activities in the area, including acquiring conservation easements on several properties along Sacramento Creek.

Land owned by MALT and the United States Forest Service on Pennsylvania Mountain has been used by several universities for research activities for decades.

The CUP allows several small cabins to house researchers. They will be built as they are needed. The barn will be turned into a laboratory with living quarters on the second floor.

The property will no longer house domestic animals. Trails totaling 2.35 miles loop through property and have interpretative signs that highlight the natural resources and wildlife on the property.  Trails are open year round for use by the general public.

The property is covered by a conservation easement held by Colorado Open Lands.  A letter from COL stated the activities are within the easement’s scope and the new construction is in the existing seven-acre building envelope.                                                                                                                       

Sacramento Creek, beaver ponds and associated wetlands run lengthwise through the lot. MALT has conducted water quality testing and other outdoor education activities with local schools and the Boys and Girls Club.

One resident was concerned about impacts from the volume of people and vehicles not there with the past uses. She was also concerned about the cabins being used as short term rentals.

Elsner said renting the cabins would be a violation of the CUP and a good cause to revoke it.

Jeanne Beaudry, MALT executive director said the researchers are there for a few months in the summer and the groups come at different times. Groups usually consist of one or two master degree students with one professor.

Cabins will be built as they are needed. The original CUP allowed five cabins.  Ten may not be needed but are in the plan for future planning purposes.

Beaudry said the researchers will have little impact to the neighborhood. They will be there to do research and complete studies. They will be on the mountain or in the lab during the day.

She said MALT decided to include cabins because it is getting harder to find housing for a few weeks in the summer.

Marijuana license continued

The renewal of retail, cultivation and  infused product manufacturing licenses for both medical and recreational marijuana products was continued to Oct.  5 to allow time for the owners to complete a possible sale of the businesses.

One owner, Jason Cranford, said he understood that he had to come up with a plan for paying back excise taxes by the Aug. 17 hearing.  The resolution said he needed to pay all back taxes by Aug. 17.

He said the company is about halfway through the process of selling the business.

“It hurts to sell. I’ve built this business from the ground up,” Cranford said.   Since banks won’t loan to marijuana businesses, he said he really didn’t have any choice but to sell.  

Sales are now down about 50 percent statewide due to COVID impacts, he said.

The business has been operating since 2013, but due to COVID restrictions and employees catching the virus, he had to close operations due to workers being sick. He then got behind paying both state and county taxes.

Cranford said the company has paid back the state taxes and was paying county personal property taxes that day, but still owes county excise taxes.  He said his state license was now in good standing.

The potential new owners have several other marijuana businesses in the state. Cranford said paying the property and excise taxes will be in the sale documents, so the county will be made whole. He estimated that to be around $100,000.

During the discussion, several factors in the marijuana ordinance and regulations came to light that may need changed so companies that find themselves in financial trouble through no fault of their own will have options and won’t be financially punished.  

One example is still being charged estimated excise taxes even if the company isn’t producing; as happened when Cranford’s employees contracted coronovirus.

That discussion will take place after this license renewal case is concluded.

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