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MERI-J petition seeks a share of the marijuana excise tax

TRINIDAD — Steve Bolton and Tom Murphy have proposed the city take some of its marijuana excise tax revenues and use it to reduce electric utility rates for its customers. Trinidad’s electric rates are some of the highest of 171 Colorado municipalities. According to Murphy, the community’s electric bill as a whole is placed between $5 million to $7 million a month. Using the formula provided in the body of the petition, funding from the marijuana excise tax could lower electric bills by one third to one half. The excise tax revenues are set at $25 a pound on marijuana sold outside the city. The reason for the high rates, according to Murphy, was surmised by council member Michelle Miles after her appointment in October 2012 to the city council. “It’s a slam-dunk for me, it’s ARPA,” Miles said concerning the high rates during her 2012 presentation to the city council. “Rates are two to three times what they should be…we have the highest base rates in the nation… at this point ARPA can’t be fixed.” Since then Miles has been appointed to the ARPA (Arkansas River Power Authority) board of directors to represent the city. During Bolton’s

presentation he addressed the section from the city’s charter concerning citizen initiatives. Twice they attempted to present the city with an initiative the current city council has shot down. “There is nothing in the petition or the initiative that violates the city charter,” Bolton said. City Attorney Les Downs sees it otherwise. “I have talked with four other attorneys and they all agree that isn’t the language of the charter,” Downs said. The contested piece of the Home Rule Municipal Charter is section 5.18 under the section dealing with initiatives. Downs sees that section as saying that “an ordinance pertaining to appropriations for the function of the city” is not allowed. The argument revolves around the definition of “appropriations.” Bolton doesn’t see the tax as an appropriation. No money has been collected, and the city council hasn’t voted to appropriate anything. The petition itself states that all proceeds collected from the sale of marijuana sold outside the city be applied to subsidizing the high electric rates charged to the city’s residents. The city balked at the idea, saying it would be bad policy to commit any future city council to assign the funds to a certain idea and could deny needed revenues for other expenditures. Miles, who is running for another term on the city council, said she supports the idea in principal but it leaves a lot to be desired. “I can’t say how much of the revenue should be devoted to this idea. It would be a mistake to make such a commitment during an election year when the composition of the new council is yet still unknown.”