Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – If Humboldt County supervisors use public input as a guide for spending marijuana tax money, they’ll prioritize children’s and family mental health services.
The results of polling at community meetings and online were presented at the April 18 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Through the month of March, the county held community meetings on the upcoming county budget in McKinleyville, Southern Humboldt, Eureka and Willow Creek. The focus of the meetings was how to spend revenue from Measure S, the voter-approved measure that set tax rates on commercial marijuana cultivation.
Those who attended the meetings were asked how the tax revenue should be spent; the question was also posed on the Open Humboldt county website. A total of 974 votes were cast; 318 of them favored children’s and family mental health services, more than twice as many as the second-place item, a general category that includes roads and low-income housing.
Environmental clean-up was the third place spending preference, with 145 votes.
Other spending categories include drug rehabilitation, public safety and jobs creation.
The county budget will be open to comment in public hearings this June. County Administrative Officer Amy Nilsen said the Measure S feedback will shape one of several recommendations for spending the tax revenue.
Supervisor Estelle Fennell noted that support for spending the marijuana tax revenue in the communities where it originates was “emphatically stated” at the public meetings.
The effect of property value escalation was highlighted by Supervisor Rex Bohn, who said the costs of environmental clean-ups should be supported by property liens instead of Measure S tax revenue.
“If they’re gonna degrade the land, let them bring it back or else they’re gonna lose the value on the property,” he said. “We have these skyrocketing property values – let’s hit ’em where it hurts, right where their land values are.”
Nilsen said a step toward that approach will be taken when the County Counsel’s Office develops a proposal to expedite marijuana-related code enforcement actions.
The total cost of the community meetings, including staff time, is $33,235. Last year, general budget meetings were held in each supervisorial district and simultaneously broadcast live on Access Humboldt public access TV. Last year’s cost was less, at $19,250.
Fennell said this year’s process was “very successful” but she identified one area that could be improved – replacing pre-prepared voting options with ones that are developed through discussions at the public meetings.
“One of the items of feedback I got from several people was a discomfort with the provided questions and a request for the polling that happened to reflect the discussions in the room,” she continued.
The possibility of skewed voting was discussed when Bohn asked if people could vote repetitively on the county’s Open Humboldt website, where the majority of votes were cast.
Nilsen said repetitive votes were possible on Open Humboldt but Fennell said people can consider the voting at the public meetings if they “have suspicions about how people use Open Humboldt.”
When the public meeting tallies are taken alone, the top three Measure S spending priorities are the same as in the total vote.