Medford faces a $664,000 question: how should the city spend money from marijuana taxes?
Putting it toward a new aquatics facility, more police or to plug gaps in retirement costs were among the ideas Medford’s Budget Committee mulled Thursday evening, but a decision as to how the revenue will be used was postponed to November.
In the meantime, $664,576.85 awaits a destination.
The figure consists of revenue from state marijuana taxes and a local 3 percent sales tax from June 1, 2017, through May 2018, according to reports generated by Medford’s Chief Financial Officer Ryan Martin. Revenue is expected to grow another $1.2 million over the next two years but can’t be spent until it is allocated for a purpose.
The Budget Committee is expected to move closer to a decision at its next meeting, set for 6 p.m. Nov. 8, although Medford City Councilor and Budget Committee member Kevin Stine expressed skepticism.
“The last meeting we talked about it to move it to the next meeting, and here we are again, going to move it to the next meeting,” Stine said.
Stine advocated for a portion of the money to go toward one-time projects for nonprofit agencies or one-time Medford Senior Center projects otherwise not covered in the city budget.
“At some point I’d like it to go to the citizens of Medford,” Stine said.
Medford City Councilor Clay Bearnson, who owns Oregon Farmacy, a marijuana dispensary in downtown Medford, suggested the tax money go toward recreational activities for youth, and suggested a reserve fund for a new aquatics facility.
“I feel like this money should go into enriching this community,” Bearnson said.
Others voiced concerns that spending it on an aquatics facility would violate the will of voters, who turned down a $14.5 million bond measure in 2012 to replace Hawthorne and Jackson pools.
“They didn’t want to be taxed,” Bearnson countered.
Stine said he didn’t oppose putting the money toward an aquatics facility, but said the “volatility of the money is unlike anything else.”
“We know if we tack on a $2 public safety fee, we can project that out pretty easily,” Stine said. Marijuana revenue could drop because of federal law or changes in market demands.
Councilor Tim Jackle said he’d like to see the money go toward the unfunded Public Employee Retirement Services liability.
“It’s an obligation that we owe, and we have to pay it,” Jackle said.
Budget Committee member Rick Whitlock and City Councilor Kim Wallan asked how marijuana legalization has impacted Medford police.
Deputy Chief Brett Johnson said grow sites typically occur outside city limits. The bulk of criminal activity within Medford surrounding black-market marijuana occurs at shipping facilities, he said.
The multi-agency Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement task force, headquartered in Medford, could work on shipping facilities full time “and probably still wouldn’t scratch the market,” Johnson said, adding that MADGE’s dog handler broke the million-dollar mark in cash seizures last year “because there’s just so much money coming into this region.”
MADGE devotes about 1.5 employees to marijuana-related crimes in the region in positions that are already budgeted, according to Johnson. The department will pursue more positions through state grants that are “coming down the road,” Johnson said.
Robberies of local marijuana growers are the primary violent crimes stemming from pot legalization, according to Johnson. People from out of state pose as buyers arranging drug deals with local growers, then pull a gun during the hand-off. Local robbery investigations have sent U.S. marshals to Maryland and Texas, Johnson said.