Several weeks ago a colleague forwarded me an interesting article and I haven’t been able to stop thinking of it since. The headline of the article read, “WEED BUILT THIS: Posh $30M rec center paid for with pot-tax money coming in May with eye popping features,” and was from the Sentinel an Aurora, Colorado, based newspaper.
Colorado, like Oregon, is one of the eight states (and Washington, D.C.) that has legalized marijuana and, as such, is collecting tax on the sale of marijuana. Under the 2014 Oregon Ballot Measure 91, the state collects a 17% tax on recreational marijuana with cities and counties being able to add an additional 3%.
Now, this article is not an intention to enter the debate about the political, health or other facets of this legislature. However, the reason why this article and this topic is so compelling to me, is what the city of Aurora was able to do with their tax revenues from marijuana.
Cities, counties, special districts and other municipal organizations throughout our state and country are challenged continuously with budget strain. Elected officials and government employees are faced with difficult decisions about which programs, facilities and services to invest in. Ask any elected official, if they need more money to get more good work done and the resounding answer would be. “Yes!”
Aurora, Colorado features a population nearly 10 times that in all of Clatsop County so the comparison of there to here is not necessarily apples to apples. But I was shocked, pleasantly shocked, that at least one government agency, has decided to invest a good chunk of their marijuana tax, for recreation! What a novel concept: provide an amazing amenity that also improves quality of life, property value and community health through funds that previously may not have been available!
The rec center in Aurora is 60,000 square feet and features fitness and community space but the crown jewel, as described in the article is the pool and water slide which features an indoor/outdoor component and the first indoor wave pool in the entire state of Colorado.
It was reported that the State of Oregon distributed $85 million over the course of the first 18 months after ballot measure 91 took effect. That money was distributed to the following channels, as laid out in the measure: Common School Fund, mental health, alcoholism and drug services, state police, cities for enforcement of the measure, counties for enforcement of the measure and the Oregon Health Authority for alcohol and drug abuse prevention.
None would argue that those are not worthwhile causes and they certainly seem like logical avenues. Perhaps that is why I was so shocked to hear of the Aurora project.
When the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District approached our residents to request approval of a bond for expanding our indoor facilities, it was done after an exhaustive review to identify funding streams in other areas. Those options, unfortunately are limited. While our permanent tax rate is set and provides for the bulk of our operating budget, future growth, or even the idea of future growth is limited without a successful bond or some other act of divine intervention.
The marijuana tax, at least for the states that have approved it, is funding that can open a door to accomplish a project that may have seemed that it never would get done. I applaud the city of Aurora for using some of their tax funds for this inspired purpose. With or without legal marijuana, people need places to recreate, to exercise and to be healthy.