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Palmer Lake discusses recreational marijuana, fire mitigation

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Jesse Byrnes The Gazette - Updated: January 19, 2014 at 4:29 pm

More than two dozen Palmer Lake residents gathered Saturday at a town hall meeting to discuss recreational marijuana and fire mitigation.

But it was marijuana that had most people talking.

Recreational pot became legal Jan. 1 in Colorado, but Palmer Lake plans to "take it slow and easy" deciding whether to allow recreational sales, according to one Town Council member.

"[Allowing retail] will legitimize a business that has been conducted in this area for decades," said Dino Salvatori, owner of Palmer Lake Wellness Center, one of two medical marijuana dispensaries in Palmer Lake that have brought in about $30,000 in tax revenue in three years, according to town clerk Tara Berreth.

Buyers in Colorado pay 10 percent sales and 15 percent state excise tax on retail marijuana. If Palmer Lake voters choose in April to allow marijuana retail, the town will have access to 12.5 percent of tax revenue designated for municipalities, according to Salvatori, who lives in Golden.

The Palmer Lake Town Council voted 4-1 in August to ban recreational pot sales.

Salvatori speculates that ban is causing Palmer Lake to miss out on $6,000 a day, and an additional $5 per ounce ($40,000 per month) that his company would give to the town treasury, by banning recreational sales. Still, he admits the numbers are high and will likely drop when more retail shops enter the market.

Since recreational use up to 1 ounce is legal to those 21 and older, "The only issue is whether we tax it," said resident Jim Adams.

Council member Mike Maddox, one of the four, pushed back.

"We all want what's best for this community otherwise we wouldn't be here," he said.

No one knows exactly how much revenue would be generated for the town by regulating recreational marijuana sales.

Council members are drifting on the issue, Maddox said, though idealism still exists. Places that have allowed recreational pot, like Pueblo, are dealing with increased traffic, impaired drivers and public smoking, he said, based on talks he's had with two city council members there.

"It will no longer be a charming community. It'll be gone forever," said one man about tourists descending on the town of about 2,400.

Manitou Springs is closer to allowing recreational sales, the final decision coming Jan. 21. If allowed there, most traffic to Palmer Lake will come from the Parker and Castle Rock area, Salvatori said.

"Yes, it will bring in more traffic but those folks will support us in other ways," said Cyndee Henson, a resident since the '70s.

Residents and fire officials had plenty to say, too, about wildfire mitigation.

"Mitigation in Colorado is a lifestyle," said John Vincent, Tri-Lakes fire marshal and Palmer Lake fire chief. He stressed both defensive and offensive strategies in convincing residents of the 3,840-acre wooded town to mitigate.

Wescott Fire Marshal Margo Humes, who has helped in Palmer Lake, worked with the fire department in Black Forest before last summer's fire there that destroyed 488 homes and burned about 14,000 acres.

"They love their trees," Humes said of Black Forest residents. "They hug their trees and sing kumbaya and that's great, but they have to be trimmed."

Humes plans to distribute a $3,000 Forest Service grant to residents taking action to reduce fire danger on their property.

The state reimburses residents 50 percent of mitigation costs - including time ($22.43/hour) and resources - up to $500 per acre, according to Humes.

"I do not want to see the people of Palmer Lake be like the people of Black Forest," he said, noting that some received cancellation letters from their insurance companies following the fire.

Assessments are a "big stick" for homeowners to hit their insurance companies over the head with, said Vincent, who leads a team of 25 volunteer firefighters.

Initiatives to secure more mitigation funding will likely be on the ballot in November, according to Palmer Lake Mayor Nikki McDonald. These could include adding 1/10 of one cent onto each resident's taxes, doubling the 0.5-cent sales tax to fund fire and police, or working on a bond.

The next town hall meeting is scheduled for Feb. 15.

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