Local marijuana tax discussed, pending passage of Measure 91
by Randy Parks
After formally accepting Boyce LaForest’s resignation earlier in the meeting, the Burns City Council appointed Lou Ann Deiter and Dennis Davis from a pool of four candidates to fill the two vacant seats on the council.
Along with Deiter and Davis, Charity Robey and Holly Palmer had also submitted letters of interest in serving on the council.
The council was down to three voting members after Councilor Jerry Woodfin responded to an emergency call for the Burns Fire Department.
The council first voted for two out of the four candidates, and the vote was unanimous in favor of Deiter and Davis. The council took a vote as to who should fill which vacancy. The person filling LaForest’s seat will hold the position until 2016, while the appointee to the vacancy created by the resignation of Linc Reed-Nickerson will be up for election in November. Because it is too late to file to run in the election, the appointee could choose to run a write-in campaign.
By a 2-1 vote, Deiter was appointed to LaForest’s seat, and Davis filled the other spot. The two were sworn in and took their seats on the council.
It was also mentioned that Councilor Nona Popham did not file for re-election, so her seat will also be filled by the upcoming election.
Woodfin did file to run for re-election for his position on the council.
The council held a preliminary discussion on whether the city should impose a local tax on marijuana in the event that Measure 91 passes in the Nov. 4 election.
Some of the aspects of the measure pertaining to the discussion are: Measure 91 legalizes recreational marijuana for persons age 21 and older; permits the manufacture and sale of marijuana subject to state licensing, regulation, and taxation; will be regulated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission; according to Section 42 of the initiative, the state will have the exclusive right to tax marijuana. Section 58 provides that the provisions of the measure supersede and repeal inconsistent municipal charters and ordinances; Section 84 provides that the measure will take effect 30 days after it is approved by voters.
City Manager Kraig Cutsforth told the council the city’s attorney recommended the council decide before the election if they want to impose a local tax because once the election is over, it would be too late.
Cutsforth said that several cities, including Bend, Roseburg and The Dalles, have decided not to impose a local tax, appearing to believe that such a tax would be validly preempted by the measure, and further cite uniformity of taxation, a desire to avoid litigation, and a general distaste for sales taxes as reasons for choosing not to enact a tax.
Other cities, including Tigard, Ashland, Milwaukie and Rogue River, have opted to impose a local tax, presumingly, believing that Section 58, insofar as it repeals local ordinances and charter provisions, is invalid.
Cutsforth explained that each city will have to decide for itself if it wants to enact a local tax.
Councilor Terri Presley stated that it would be worth looking into.
Cutsforth said he could provide the council with a model of the ordinance passed by Ashland at the Oct. 22 council meeting, and if the council decides to impose a tax, they will have to decide on the tax rate and pass a new resolution.
The council then moved on to a discussion to amend Burns Municipal Code 5.05 concerning business licenses, and declaring an emergency.
Cutsforth presented a draft ordinance for the council’s review, and explained the change is a two-step process. The first step is to change the current ordinance to allow the issuance of the current pending applications for the medical marijuana dispensaries. Then, a second ordinance will be drafted dealing with the time, place and manner of the specific type of business, with a public workshop for input.
The amended ordinance changes the current ordinance from an almost purely regulatory style to one of a revenue style.
Presley expressed concern about violating federal law regarding marijuana, and said the city still has a responsibility to keep the community safe.
Mayor Craig LaFollette stated the city’s legal counsel can explain the ordinance with regards to federal law, and the council agreed to hold a special session to talk with the attorney and get an explanation.
Cutsforth reported the city’s well telemetry system was failing, and there was an emergency need to order a new system at a cost of about $8,200. He added that the radio system at the airport failed, and couldn’t be repaired, and requested approval from the council to replace the radio system at a cost of about $1,800. The council agreed to go ahead with both expenditures.
Cutsforth stated that he is continuing to meet with the Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives about the base flood elevation data for the Silvies River watershed, and a meeting has been set for mid-November for the county-wide advisory committee to discuss air quality.
In other business:
• Burns Fire Chief Scott Williamson said his department had received 120 smoke detectors from a State Fire Marshal grant to install in homes, and they have installed 86 in about 20 homes already. He noted that only one of the homes where the new smoke detectors were installed had functional smoke alarms to replace. Williamson said when they install the remainder of the smoke detectors, they will apply for another grant as their goal is to get every residence equipped with them.
Williamson stated that after the council’s last meeting, when a citizen brought concerns about the dry brush near the nature trail, he had gone out to look at the situation and it is too dangerous to try and burn the brush off.
“There’s too much of a fuel load, and it would get out of hand,” Williamson said.
As a precautionary measure, the city maintenance crew cut down the brush on the city’s side of the trail;
• Burns Police Sergeant Newt Skunkcap reported there had been several more vehicle break-ins, and cautioned residents to keep their vehicles locked and to not leave anything of value in their vehicles;
• Public Works Director Dave Cullens requested permission from the council to proceed with an easement along a drainage ditch on the back side of Railroad Avenue. He asked for approval to spend about $8,000 for engineers to survey the area and then get an easement.
Woodfin asked what would happen if a property owner said “no” to having an easement placed on their property?
Cullens stated it would probably come back to the council to see what their next step should be.
Presley made a motion to have Cullens proceed with the easement, but the motion died for a lack of a second.
LaFollette asked Cullens to get more information and bring the request back to the council;
• Treva Spence was in attendance to ask for permission to close East Washington Street from North Broadway to North Alder on Oct. 18 for the Chili Cookoff, sponsored by Xi Delta Gamma. The council granted the request, and the street will be closed off the night before;
• During the citizens concerns portion of the meeting, Grant Gunderson asked about the public workshop for input on the medical marijuana dispensary business licenses. He then told the council that Cave Junction filed suit against the governor, the state of Oregon and the Oregon Health Authority to decide whether the state law authorizing the sale of medical marijuana through dispensaries complies with the state and U.S. constitutions.
“The lawsuit is moving forward. It’s still a federal offense to use or possess marijuana,” Gunderson said.
Gunderson also asked why the city didn’t put a one-year moratorium on the dispensaries when they had the chance? He requested a written reply to the question.
Dr. Tom Fitzpatrick questioned if the council talked to personnel from the schools, law enforcement and health officials before making their decision to allow business licenses for the dispensaries, and, if not, why?;
• Popham stated that the council was accused of not listening to the public on making their decision to allow dispensaries, but since the decision was made, she has received several phone calls in favor of the decision.
“One person said they couldn’t attend the meeting because of health issues. Another was out of town getting their ‘medicine,’ so they couldn’t be at the meeting either. There have been people talking to me from the other side. We have been listening to both sides.
“I also visited with my own doctor, and felt even better about my decision,” she said;
• the council agreed to hold an executive session at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, for a performance review of the city manager and for legal counsel on the Measure 91 local tax issue.
The next council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, at city hall.