The Mesquite City Council’s approach to approving portions of marijuana sales tax receipts for local schools couldn’t have been more different compared to when the issue was first introduced several months ago.
Councilman Brian Wursten introduced a measure on July 25 that would devote half of 1 percent of the 3 percent tax collected from local marijuana sales to supplement shortfalls in funding for Mesquite schools. Wursten said the fund would be controlled by the council with input from the Mesquite Community Education Advisory Board (CEAB).
The measure died on a 2-3 vote to move it forward with three councilmen arguing that dedicating any monies from marijuana tax sales was premature at the time and outside the budgeting process. Councilmen George Rapson, David Ballweg and Geno Withelder voted no with Wursten and Rich Green voting yes.
At the council’s Aug. 8 meeting several dozen high school students, parents and teachers vociferously protested that decision. Wursten promised to re-introduce the measure and he did on the Oct. 24 council agenda.
However, Ballweg also introduced a resolution at Tuesday’s meeting that if approved would pre-empt Wursten’s move. Adding to the drama, Wursten co-sponsored Ballweg’s resolution that appeared to contradict his own ordinance which he ultimately pulled off the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. No students, teachers or school administrators attended Tuesday’s council meeting.
Ballweg’s resolution calls for a set amount of marijuana tax receipts, beginning with $60,000, that will offset the costs of extracurricular activities for students at four local schools. Distribution of the money will be administered by CEAB with council’s oversight.
The city received $120,000 in marijuana tax receipts for the first quarter of the fiscal year, July through September. That is half of the $240,000 the city projected it would receive for the entire fiscal year. Deep Roots Harvest, the only marijuana facility in Mesquite, also paid $12,500 in licensing fees for the year. While medical marijuana sales have been allowed for several years, recreational marijuana sales began July 1.
Part of the disagreement with Wursten’s original proposal was that the city had already budgeted the projected receipts in May. Several councilors also disagreed with giving the schools “a blank check” without knowing exactly how much tax receipts would ultimately be collected by the city.
Ballweg’s resolution took that uncertainty out of the picture by allotting a set amount.
“Councilman Wursten and I have been working very diligently on trying to come up with a compromise on all the discussions we’ve had on this,” Ballweg said. “We’ve got information now [after the first quarter receipts] that gives us an idea of what we might collect.”
He added that the definitive amount gives the CEAB an idea of the funding they can expect and begin working on a plan of how it will be spent. “The CEAB can come back to the council in January with their plan,” Ballweg said. He also said the funding can be amended during the next budget process in May 2018.
“Deep Roots Harvest is also working on additional funding for this program, but we don’t know what that is yet,” Ballweg said.
“This resolution works well and is all encompassing,” Wursten said. “We have been meeting with Deep Roots Harvest and they have been wonderful to work with. They are working on additional funding. If things come to fruition like we think they might, that will help replace some of the funds that would have come from the city.”
“There are pieces of this that I like and some that I prefer not to be in here,” Rapson said. Disagreeing with the portion of the resolution that would leave spending plans up to CEAB, he said “I can’t think of anyone who knows their school better than the principal. I think it would be simpler and wiser to allocate the money directly to the principal based on qualitative measures like a per pupil, per school count.”
Rapson agreed with the $60,000 cap saying “this is not a blank check. That was my fundamental issue with the original proposal. Contrary to comments in the past, not every person in this town wants to spend every dollar on the schools. We have other budgetary requirements. Although I’m not a hundred percent happy with this, I can live with it.”
Green said “the CEAB is geared up to manage this. The board has representative from all four schools and the principals attend those meetings also.”
The resolution passed on a unanimous vote.