Council-Marijuana-09-14-17: Community Education Advisory Board President Jodi Thornley, center holding cellphone, led a group of high school students to the podium at the Sep. 12 Mesquite City Council meeting advocating for additional school funding from local marijuana sales tax receipts. Photo by Barbara Ellestad

Because they were closely related and affected each other, the Mesquite City Council combined two agenda items into one discussion at the Tuesday, Sept. 14, meeting. A resolution to postpone distribution of local marijuana sales tax receipts to Virgin Valley schools until February 2018 related to the adoption of an ordinance that would immediately begin devoting half of 1 percent of the 3 percent tax collected from those same sales to supplement shortfalls in funding for Mesquite schools. Both competing measures have been debated by the council since July.

Councilman Dave Ballweg, the resolution sponsor, reiterated that he was not opposed to ultimately devoting some of the tax receipts to offset costs of after-school programs or to make up for funding shortfalls from the Clark County School District. He opposed allotting the money before the city knew exactly how much taxes would be collected and exactly how the schools would spend the money.

Throughout the lengthy discussion, Councilmen Geno Withelder, Rich Green and George Rapson agreed with Ballweg. All four councilors wanted the Community Education Advisory Board (CEAB) and local school officials to develop a business plan that would list and prioritize all the programs for which they desired funding.

However, Councilman Brian Wursten, who sponsored the spending ordinance, said “I still maintain there is no reason for us to wait. For us to not take this opportunity is a big mistake. We don’t need to wait two quarters to know what we get. If it’s only a dollar, let’s give them half of one percent of a dollar. At least we’ve done something to help the education in our area.”

Saying that taking half a percent of the three percent in local marijuana sales tax receipts was worth helping the schools, Wursten added “the council gets to decide where that money is spent.” He explained that the CEAB would recommend to the council how the money would be spent and the council could add it to consent agendas for quick approval without going through the spending item by item.

Ballweg said he wanted a better idea of CEAB’s goals for spending any potential tax money and the delay presented through his resolution would give the organization time to do that.

Several times during the meeting the number thrown out that educators wanted in tax receipts was about $150,000. At one point during the public hearing, high school football coach Yuri Ludvigson gave the councilmen a list of programs just for the high school that totaled $159,000.

CEAB President Jodi Thornley read a list of potential programs and activities that needed funding help with the number running well over a hundred between all four local schools. The activities extended from band, We The People program, AP teacher conferences, leadership camps and after school tutoring.

Ballweg pointed out that to generate $150,000 under the proposed formula would require $30 million in total marijuana sales in Mesquite alone.

Green said “we don’t know what our amount is [of the collected taxes] and we won’t for some time. The education group doesn’t know what their amount is either.” He added that he had heard from many different people how the money would be spent but that nothing specific had been decided. “I don’t think the education interest folks have their homework done and we don’t have a basis to do our homework. Let’s wait until we have some sound basis for how big the pot is and the education group can take their time to come up a more solid plan through the CEAB.”

Rapson said he understood that the after-school programs especially were underfunded by the school district. “I don’t have an issue with that part of it,” he said. After saying he had asked for a business plan from the teachers and had not received one, he said “we have not quantified the dollars yet. A percentage of something is not a quantifiable amount right now. The citizens deserve to know the amount of tax dollars you’re asking for and how it’s going to be directed.”

Withelder said he agreed with Rapson adding “a percentage of what? We have no idea what that percentage is going to be. Is it our responsibility to fundamentally subsidize the Clark County School District? If we start with one group, it’s going to be another group with their hand out, and then another group. Until we have a plan in place about exactly what we’re going to do, we need to wait until after the next two quarters [of tax collections].”

Even though it seemed as though the resolution to delay funding until February 2018 would be approved 4-1 with Wursten the lone dissent, after a two-hour-plus discussion and public hearing, Withelder and Green flipped their apparent votes and agreed with Wursten’s motion to not approve the resolution.

In arguing for his spending ordinance, Wursten said “this is not subsidizing Clark County. This won’t touch Clark County. We’re suing the school district because they’re not doing anything. Does that mean we don’t help our kids? That’s a terrible way to look at this. We need to cowboy-up and say this was meant to help the schools and just do it.”

Rapson said “no one said we’re not going to do anything. But let’s understand what we’re doing before we do it and make sure we have the money to do it. That’s what we said.” Rapson said it has been a perpetuated myth for a long time that the council said they would give some of the marijuana money to the schools. But after reviewing past council meeting minutes, he said no evidence could be found of that promise. “Things are being put out there to sway the argument that are fundamentally false.”

Ultimately, Wursten’s spending ordinance was tabled after Keith Capurro, CEO of Deep Roots Harvest, which is the sole marijuana dispensary in Mesquite, addressed the council. Capurro said that as a businessman, he agreed with the four councilmen who want a spending plan put together. But, “as a compassionate human being and father,” he agreed with Wursten.

“I have some ideas on how we can get creative and get a solution in place now. If you guys would be willing to table this for a couple weeks, I think we can get together and come up with a solution we can do now. Then you have the time to see how the funds roll into place the next few months so you can make a more educated decision.”

And with that, the council voted unanimously to table the spending ordinance issue until October.