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Colorado Springs City Council nixes recreational marijuana ballot question

September 10, 2014 Updated: September 10, 2014 at 2:51 pm
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photo - File photo
File photo  

The Colorado Springs City Council will not ask voters if they want the city to allow recreational marijuana sales, leaving the issue in the hands of citizens who could collect signatures to get the question on the 
ballot.

The council voted 6-3 on Tuesday against an April ballot question that would have asked voters if they want the city to regulate recreational marijuana sales the way it does 
alcohol.

It was a blow to council member Jill Gaebler, who sponsored the proposal and thought she had worked out a compromise with City Council President Keith King, who she believed to be the deciding vote in a possible 5-4 split in favor. Gaebler originally wanted to ask voters the regulation question and if they approved it, then the city would set up a task force to formulate rules.

But King wanted more.

He said he wouldn't support a ballot question unless it was attached to a marijuana tax question. Gaebler was OK with that and on Monday said she would drop her proposed single question and allow King's dual question to be voted on.

But King wanted hard numbers attached to the proposed tax question. For example, if the city imposed a 10 percent sales tax on marijuana, how much money would that bring into the city? The city's CFO, Kara Skinner, said she could compute those numbers, but she needed more time.

Gaebler proposed that the council vote just on the regulation question Tuesday, give Skinner two weeks to work the numbers and then vote on the tax portion of the ballot question at the next City Council meeting.

King was vehemently against that proposal.

"I had to stay true to what I ran on," King said about his campaign promise that he would support recreational marijuana sales only if it was taxed, zoned away from schools and neighborhoods and if collected tax money on pot was spent on law enforcement and anti-pot campaigns for youth.

Other council members who voted against putting the recreational marijuana sales question on the ballot were Val Snider, Joel Miller, Merv Bennett, Andy Pico and Don Knight.

The vote could mean an impending citizen initiative. Earlier this summer, a grass-roots organization, Every Vote Counts, pledged to get a citizen initiated marijuana question on the ballot. However, no one from the group was at Tuesday's council meeting. It would require at least 19,861 voter signatures - 20 percent of the 99,306 votes cast in the 2011 mayoral election - for a citizen's group to get the question on the ballot.

In other business, the council voted 5-4 against donating nearly 1,200 acres of forestland to the U.S. Forest Service. Instead, the council wants the land appraised for a possible sale.

It was a move that prompted passionate speeches from council members Gaebler and Jan Martin, who both said they were disappointed that the council would treat the forestland as a business deal instead of viewing it as open space with trails that could be used by the public.

The land, owned by Colorado Springs Utilities, is known as Jones Park and straddles El Paso and Teller counties in Pike National Forest. Utilities officials recommended that the council donate the land to the Forest Service.

In 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the trails in Jones Park could be a threat to the pure greenback cutthroat trout in Bear Creek, which runs through the park. It triggered a series of studies and surveys in the land.

Possible new regulations related to the threatened fish, including moving trails, are making it expensive for Utilities to keep the land. Utilities is looking at a $40,000 bill in the next few months to conduct a required survey.

Mark Shea, Utilities watershed planning supervisor, was hoping Utilities could rid itself of the land and mounting costs. He struck a deal with the National Forest Foundation, an organization which was set up by the government specifically to work on land and grant issues with the Forest Service. The organization was ready to spend $250,000 on the trail work and promised a seamless transition to the Forest Service within three months.

But council members King, Pico, Collins, Miller and Knight said they could not vote to give away a city asset without knowing how much it was worth. Years ago, the land was appraised at 
$4 million, Shea said. But that was before the new restrictions related to the threatened fish.

The council's decision not to donate the land to the Forest Service leaves open the possibility of donating the land to El Paso County, which wants it. County administrator Jeff Greene and County Commissioner Sallie Clark said the county understands the liability with the fish and maintaining the trails and has committed $200,000 for necessary work.

Clark argued that the county would be more responsive than the federal government to trail users. She said the county was committed to following the guidelines to protect the fish.

The council will discuss the cost and timeline of an appraisal at its Sept. 23 meeting.

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Contact Monica Mendoza: 
636-0187

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