Parachute voters will decide broadband question & marijuana tax |

Parachute voters will decide broadband question & marijuana tax

Ryan Hoffman

As Garfield County works to gain an understanding of the county’s broadband needs, both from residents and businesses, Parachute is going ahead with putting a question on the November ballot that would allow the town the option of participating in the telecommunications business.

Trustees last month approved an ordinance placing the question on the November ballot, along with another ordinance seeking voter approval of an excise tax on manufactured marijuana.

Both questions are forward-thinking issues centered on economic development, said Stuart McArthur, town manager.

Both also come at an interesting time.

The broadband question is required under a 2005 state law requiring local governments to have voter approval before engaging in the telecommunications business beyond providing services in government facilities.

Garfield County partnered with Mesa County to get a $150,000 planning grant from the Department of Local Affairs in 2015 that will go to conducting a needs assessment and strategic plan for internet service.

Garfield County is surveying both residents and businesses to gauge the quality of available internet services, how customers use the internet and the cost of those services. The surveys also will ask what people would be willing to pay for high-speed internet and what the local government’s role should be in providing it, if at all.

Commissioners are considering a November ballot question to opt out of the 2005 state law, but have not done so yet. And the other municipalities in the county, with the exception of Glenwood Springs, where voters already approved a similar question in 2008, have not approved a ballot question.

For the most part, those municipalities have yet to publicly discuss at length a potential ballot question.

Rifle is participating in the county’s process and following things closely, but has not discussed it. The same goes for New Castle and Silt, although both intend to discuss it in the near future.

Silt trustees are scheduled to have a work session with county commissioners on June 13. Broadband is one of two topics currently budgeted for discussion.

In New Castle, broadband could be a discussion topic at the June 21 meeting, said Tom Baker, town administrator.

The decision by Parachute trustees puts the town at the forefront, despite not having a set plan or understanding of needs. The move was more strategic and intended to give the town flexibility going forward, McArthur said. High-speed, reliable internet service is seen as a crucial element to economic development.

A comprehensive development plan for the Parachute area suggested recruiting a call center to Battlement Mesa — a potential employment opportunity not only for the working class but those seeking part-time work as well. The plan lists identifying a location based on internet capacity and redundancy as one of the action steps for bringing a call center to the area.

McArthur does not see the town getting into the business of providing internet service on its own — more likely some form of a private-public partnership — but the town did not want to delay or possibly lose any future opportunities.

“We need to have every bullet in the belt that we can to attract businesses,” McArthur said.

The other ballot question approved by trustees would establish a 5 percent excise tax on manufactured retail and medical marijuana, as well as cultivated medical marijuana.

Voters last November approved a 5 percent excise tax on retail cultivation, but the town has yet to collect any tax from it. McArthur said he has not proposed an additional tax on retail marijuana sales in general because the town already has a high sales tax rate.

When voters consider the excise tax this fall, they also will decide on whether the town should place a ban on marijuana businesses. That question was put on the ballot by a successful citizen-led petition effort last year. McArthur said the town is not waiting for the results of that ballot question.

“The town is moving forward,” he said. “(We) can’t sit and wait for those contingencies.”

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