Pittsfield to set aside portion of pot money for public services

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PITTSFIELD — When it comes to the city's newest revenue source, public services soon will get a dedicated piece of the pie.

Half of incoming cannabis revenues so far have fueled the city's general stabilization fund, but after a City Council vote Tuesday, an additional 25 percent will feed a new stabilization fund specifically for public works. Councilors voted 9-1 in favor of the measure, with Ward 6 Councilor John Krol voting against and Ward 7 Councilor Tony Simonelli absent.

Tax revenues from two marijuana shops in Pittsfield shook out to about $206,328 for city coffers during June, July and August, according to Department of Revenue documents shared by the city. The first shop opened in January and the second in April, and Pittsfield has so far collected $302,201 for reporting periods running from January to August.

And there are more in the pipeline — the city has granted green lights to 11 retailers to date.

The proposal to use one-quarter of the money for public works comes from Mayor Linda Tyer, and it follows a push from Councilors Chris Connell and Melissa Mazzeo to apply half of the new pool of money to annual road maintenance. The city ends up borrowing about $2 million a year to maintain city streets, and Connell says cannabis revenue should be used to offset that borrowing.

According to Tyer's proposal, the city looks to use the public works fund toward unaccepted streets, sidewalk improvements, tree work, accessibility projects and park upgrades.

"Using the new revenue in this manner will ensure that we can finally address these types of public works projects that have either a severely limited or no dedicated funding source," Tyer wrote. "It will also reduce the amount of future debt that may be incurred for these projects."

The remaining 25 percent of marijuana tax revenue will land in the general fund to offset the tax rate, the proposal states.

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The city's auditor, Scanlon & Associates, advised that the city must dedicate revenue streams to stabilization funds before the start of the fiscal year, which begins July 1, according to a letter provided to councilors. That means cannabis revenue will not start populating the new fund until July 2020.

That was a point that frustrated Mazzeo, a councilor at large, who said she wished the city had addressed this sooner.

"I don't think residents want to sit around and wait," she said.

But Finance Director Matt Kerwood reminded her that councilors previously had agreed to wait alongside the administration to see "if it was feasible or rational" to appropriate this new revenue source.

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"You agreed to a six-month moratorium," he said.

Connell said the city ends up replacing city roads before paying off the loans used to previously redo them. If that continues, he said, "we're in a very vicious cycle."

But Krol said he fundamentally disagrees with the idea of dedicating this new money for any specific purposes. The city needs change, he said.

"Let's keep it flexible for future councils, for future mayors, and allow this revenue to be used for a city that's ever-changing," he said.

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And if he did consider dedicating the money to a specific purpose, he said he can think of several more important areas in need of investment, like school buildings.

"Just think about what this says about Pittsfield when the one thing that we're locking in is roads," he said.

Connell said he saw Krol's point, but he still thought it made prudent financial sense to dedicate money to projects as a way to avoid loan interest.

"We do have a lot of needs, but this would minimize one particular need for excessive borrowing on things that don't last as long as the borrowing," he said.

Councilor at Large Pete White called Tyer's proposal a fair compromise, seeing as Connell and Mazzeo's petition sought to dedicate half of the new revenue stream.

And he recently drove to Indianapolis, and said roads were rough along the way.

"I don't think we own the market on having roads that need work," he said. "It's a problem everywhere."

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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