$100K of marijuana funds given to GAC
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Kate Gienapp

A cultural establishment in Gunnison is the big winner as city leaders dole out an accumulation of marijuana money through this year’s grant cycle. The Gunnison Arts Center (GAC) has netted more than $100,000 from the City of Gunnison’s special tax on cannabis products. Gunnison city leaders on Tuesday approved grant awards aimed at spurring economic development and providing public service in the community. 

The grant award from the city is just one piece of the puzzle for the GAC, which began a capital campaign last year to maintain and restore the historic structure. The capital campaign, dubbed “Framing Our Future,” has already raised more than half a million dollars in its goal of $1 million. After the initial phase of fundraising is complete, organizers hope to raise another $1 million. 

Other entities tapping the marijuana pot include youth programs aimed at substance abuse prevention and school activities.

In 2016, Gunnison voters instituted an additional 5 percent tax for cannabis on top of existing state and local taxes. The special sales tax was initially intended to mitigate the impacts of legalization, but ballot language says that in addition to social, recreational and educational programs the money can be used “to promote the general purposes of the City of Gunnison.”  

The funds from the special tax go into the city’s Marijuana Mitigation Fund. The fund currently contains $312,522 in unspent money. The city anticipates an estimated revenue of $261,400 in  2020, or an increase of approximately 14 percent.

“There has been a great deal of growth in revenue each year, and the city has chosen to use resources once they are received rather than over estimating revenues derived from the sale of a product that just became legalized,” Finance Director Ben Cowan said of the accumulated money.

Beginning in 2018, the city streamlined its grant-awarding process, creating the two categories for funding. The purpose of public service grants is to provide support to organizations that deliver services to the community that the city may not otherwise provide. Economic development grants, open to any entity, are intended to help provide new and creative efforts to increase sales tax revenue. 

This year, the amount of money allocated for public service grants nearly doubled, from $138,183 budgeted in 2019 to $253,183 for 2020, showing an increase of $115,000. The public service grants allocation for 2020 includes $68,183 in revenue from the general fund and $185,000 from the marijuana fund. 

The total for the economic development grants remained at $23,817 for 2019 and 2020.

Cowan said the city received requests of $18,583 more than what was budgeted in economic development grants. Additionally, the city was asked for $102,920 in public service grants than was available.

This also marks the third year that for-profit entities were able to apply for economic development grants. In 2017, only two businesses did so and both received funding. 

Six separate entities requested and received economic development grants in 2019.

However, the number of businesses requesting grants more than doubled this year to 14.

Only 11 of the 14 were funded this year. 

“I know it’s a difficult decision to make as they are all worthy projects and services,” added Cowan.

Over the course of the past week, city councilors determined the funds based on an average of funding preferences. 

Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Program (GCSAPP) — which facilitates youth activities as well as a suicide prevention programming — has utilized grant funds for several years. In 2018, the city committed $43,250 from the marijuana mitigation fund for those efforts. However, for 2019, GCSAPP requested approximately half that amount, $26,094, stating that the original funds were not necessary to provide drug-free fun.

For 2020, GCSAPP once again requested $26,000 for services related to positive youth connectedness, as well as continuing to survey the community in terms of needs.

“It’s about providing safe and sober events for youth and extending that into adulthood,” explained Director of Juvenile Services Kari Commerford. “I truly believe that youth need to drive this work.” 

Another youth group — Gunnison High School Student Council — also asked for funding from the special tax revenue and received a portion of their request. The student council asked for $8,000 to pay for school events. The group received $2,500.


(Kate Gienapp can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or kate@gunnisontimes.com.)