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Budgetary issues could bring pot sales to Brighton

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By Andrea Tritschler

City council members could decide to allow marijuana sales in Brighton in the future, as a way to bring in additional tax revenue.

Brighton tax revenues don’t generate enough money to keep up with the estimated annual $36 million it takes to keep the city running, according to Clint Blackhurst, acting city manager.

City council members banned retail marijuana shops in June 2013.

Officials have taken steps to reduce the city’s internal operating costs by limiting hiring in 2018. They also will not allow any cost-of-living salary increases this year, Blackhurst said.

“There are two areas (where) the city has challenges,” Blackhurst said. “No. 1 is revenue. Every single piece of revenue is important.”

Officials want to be realistic about what residents would pay in taxes.

“Our citizens have higher and higher expectations. They want more services and better services,” Blackhurst said.

Councilwoman Mary Ellen Pollack recently suggested that the city “get with the times” and look at a marijuana sales tax as another potential source of revenue. Communities across Colorado have benefited from marijuana sales, including nearby Northglenn, which in 2015 generated $730,000 in sales tax revenue from a few marijuana stores. The money went toward water purchases and infrastructure improvements.

In Adams County, the $500,000 brought in from a marijuana sales tax went to high school scholarships.

“It does bring in revenue, it is legal and I think if we are having finance issue, that’s one way to bring in revenue,” Pollack said.

City workers are putting together potential tax revenue numbers, according to Blackhurst. Marijuana sales were projected to be more than $1 billion in 2016, up from 2015 sales of $996 million, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

While officials emphasized the city’s position of financial stability, a few new expenses in the budget including a $1.2 million water bill in 2017 and $7 million in sales tax rebates to the Prairie Center development, add a bit of extra financial stress on the city.

In previous years, the city government did not been pay for water use. Council passed an ordinance changing that last year. The Prairie Center sales reached $150 million, triggering the agreed upon sales tax rebate.

“It was designed that (businesses) would be producing so much that we could rebate some of that which they were producing. The alternative was say no and lose the Prairie Center and have no sales tax,” said Councilman Rex Bell.  “We were not giving away the house, we were giving away the front porch to keep the house.”

“Seeing that $7 million go out is hard,” said Marv Falconburg, assistant city manager. “But (the Prairie Center developers) dropped $100 million in infrastructure.. on sidewalks and roads. They built out Bromley Lane and Buckley (Road) south. That’s where that is going – paying back that investment in infrastructure.”

As the city grapples with more expenditures and prepares to begin park and infrastructure projects for 2018, officials decided to balance next year’s budget by using $2.9 million in reserve funds. They also used reserve funds in 2017 to balance the budget and used oil and gas reserve funds to pay for $1.5 million in road projects and equipment.

There will still be around $1.1 million in the reserve fund as well as more than $800,000 in oil and gas reserve fund before all of 2017 revenue has come through. Officials also expect to receive $2.3 million from mineral leases with Great Western Oil and Gas Co. and other revenue before the year is over.