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One ballot question would place a local tax on tobacco and vaping products; the second would continue the existing mill levy for open space and trails
SUMMIT COUNTY – The Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of two resolutions to place measures on Summit County's November ballot: One measure would authorize a countywide tax on products that contain nicotine; the other would continue existing funding for open space preservation, trail construction and maintenance, natural resource protection and other public programs.
Health research has shown that every 10 percent increase in price results in a decrease in use of up to 15 percent by youth and a 7 percent drop in adult use. Furthermore, research has shown that about 96 percent of smokers began smoking before age 21, with most starting before age 16.
"We know that young people are very sensitive to price increases in tobacco and nicotine products, so this tax is one of the most effective tools available to us to prevent youth use," County Commissioner Thomas Davidson said. "Vaping has quickly and quietly crept its way into the halls of our high school and middle school, but our community is putting its foot down and saying that we are not OK with our children getting hooked on these products that are disastrous for their health."
According to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, both cigarette and e-cigarette use by Summit County youth is on the rise: 16.2 percent of high school students reported smoking cigarettes within the previous 30 days, compared with 4.7 percent in 2015; 40 percent reported using e-cigarettes in the previous 30 days, compared to 26 percent in 2015. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, youth who use e-cigarettes are four-to-seven times more likely to become lifelong tobacco users.
If approved by voters, the measure would impose a $4-per-pack sales tax on cigarettes, or $0.20 per cigarette. The local sales tax on all other tobacco and nicotine products, including e-cigarettes and vaping devices, would be 40 percent starting Jan. 1, 2020, rising 10 percentage points per year for four years starting Jan. 1, 2021. Revenues generated through the nicotine sales tax would fund local tobacco control programs, including prevention and cessation programs, community education, health care services and local enforcement of tobacco control policies.
"We can't afford to sit by idly while our kids develop lifelong addictions that pose serious risks to their health," County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said. "Vaping has ushered in shocking new levels of nicotine and tobacco use by youth, reversing decades of progress our country has made in this arena. Here in Summit County, we're putting a stop to this extremely troubling trend."
The second measure referred to the local ballot would continue an existing mill levy that funds open space preservation, trail construction and maintenance, natural resource protection, workforce housing, wildfire mitigation and other public programs and services. The existing mill levy received voter approval at the polls in 2008; it expires in 2022. The proposed extension, if approved by voters this November, would continue to provide funding for these programs into the future through the existing 3.062 mill property tax.
Summit County voters first approved open space funding in 1993. The County has used the funds to protect more than 17,300 acres of open space through land acquisitions, conservation easement donations, access easements and partnerships with other agencies. Since 1995, Summit County has completed more than 300 property acquisitions and worked with more than 200 landowners to preserve their properties as a legacy for future generations.
"For decades, our community has demonstrated a deep commitment to the protection of Summit County's spectacular landscapes," Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. "We've been able to preserve cherished views, critical wildlife habitat, natural and historical resources, public access to recreational resources and the wild character of our backcountry. The Summit County Open Space Program helps ensure that this remains a special place to live, work and play for generations to come."
Over the life of the open space program, each tax dollar spent to purchase open space has protected more than $3 in property value, because local funds have been used to leverage contributions from property owners, partner organizations, the State of Colorado and other sources.
Together with its partners, Summit County manages more than 100 trailheads and local trail portals for convenient access to outdoor recreation. The County has about 85 miles of natural-surface trails within its jurisdiction, many of which provide connections to trail networks in the towns and on U.S. Forest Service land. Summit County has constructed and maintains more than 38 miles of Recpath, part of the community's 55-mile paved pathway system.
The wildfire mitigation programs funded by the existing mill levy include the Summit County Chipping Program, the Hazardous Fuels Reduction Grant Program and the Community Wildfire Protection Plan Grant Program. Through the Summit County Chipping Program, which launched in 2014, thousands of residents and property owners have taken concrete steps to protect their homes from wildfire. From 2014-2018, more than 11,000 households participated by creating defensible space and setting out piles of trees and branches for free chipping and collection.
The Hazardous Fuels Reduction Grant Program provides financial assistance to neighborhoods, HOAs and subdivisions, who work with a local wildfire mitigation expert to develop and implement wildfire fuels-reduction plans. The Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) Grant Program provides matching funds for non-fuels-related CWPP implementation projects, such as development of emergency water supplies, improvements to evacuation routes and other strategies. Summit County has distributed more than $1.8 million for projects that have reduced wildfire risk.
On the workforce housing front, funds from the existing mill levy have supported a variety of construction projects and land acquisitions, including West Hills, Huron Landing and Lake Hill. Summit County developed Huron Landing in partnership with the Town of Breckenridge, providing 26 units of rental housing for local workers. West Hills, located in Keystone, includes 66 deed-restricted ownership units priced for Summit County workers earning 70-110 percent AMI.