(By Jared Arnold/Chewelah Independent)
Lady escorted out to begin public forum…
Last Wednesday’s open public forum of the Chewelah City Council got off to a rough start when a Chewelah-area resident had to be escorted from the meeting room by police. Mary Fossum was one of the first to speak with lengthy comments about the city’s swimming pool and flight patterns over her home near the Sand Canyon Airport before Mayor Dorothy Knauss had to ask Fossum repeatedly to take a seat in order to allow others a chance to speak. Fossum did sit down briefly, but continued speaking and appeared disoriented. Sergeant Ryan Pankey then asked Fossum to leave and escorted her from the room.
The rest of the meeting proceeded smoothly with approximately 40 people in attendance to voice their opinions on a variety of issues including utility rates and nuisance properties. The major topic, however, was recreational marijuana sales in the city.
The city has had a ban on recreational marijuana production, processing and retailing since 2014 but in recent months several people have requested that the council reconsider and reverse that ban.
Mayor Knauss presented marijuana excise tax data from Stevens County and Colville to give the council an idea of what Chewelah could expect if the council were to allow sales in town. She said Stevens County received $10,646 in excise tax revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017 and is expected to get $17,750 in fiscal year 2018. Colville received $7,097 in excise tax revenue for 2017 and is expected to get $1,656 in 2018.
Knauss said that the decrease in excise tax to Colville was due to new rules about how taxes are distributed. Knauss did not report on sales tax revenue, which is currently 7.6 percent. In an email with The Independent after the meeting, a representative from Colville confirmed that they received an additional $11,000 in sales tax revenue from retail marijuana sales.
Washington state charges a 37 percent excise tax charged on all retail marijuana sales and then distributes a portion of that money back to counties and cities that allow marijuana retailing. According to Municipal Research Service Center (MRSC), the state is expected to collect $550,000,000 in marijuana excise tax in 2018. Currently, the portion of that money going back to counties and cities is capped at $15,000,000. Out of that money, 30 percent is given to counties and cities proportionally, based on sales volume; 70 percent is returned to counties and cities based on population. The county will receive 40 cents per capita and cities like Colville will receive 35 cents per capita.
Erica Church, operator of the Blowin Smoke marijuana shop just north of Chewelah on Hwy 395, described for the council the growth of marijuana sales statewide and asked if they would consider lifting the ban on sales inside the city to take advantage of the extra tax revenue. She also hoped that the city would allow her business to be the first in Chewelah.
“Is Chewelah so rich that we can’t have any part of that money?” Church asked the council.
Both Church and Tanya Schwartz emphasized the medicinal benefits that patients get from the drug, including relief from pain, seizures, cancer and others. Church said that many of her customers are patients that use marijuana for medicinal purposes, as opposed to recreational use.
Church also noted that there has never been trouble at the store and has never needed to call the police.
Schwartz suggested that the city’s marijuana ban was unjustified, given that they allow alcohol and cigarette sales inside the city. She said she understands the need to shield children from the drug, but that children are already exposed to worse intoxicants.
Councilman John Wight questioned Church about why she was pushing to open a store in town when she has an established store just outside town.
Church explained that she wants to be able to provide more convenient access for patients and customers.
Several people also spoke out against allowing marijuana sales in the city.
Richard Hixson, the city’s electrical department supervisor, agreed that there may be acceptable medical uses but was opposed to the recreational use of marijuana. He said that in 1978 he was the first student arrested at Jenkins High School for marijuana and, at that time, the drug had led him down “the wrong road.”
James Chase related to the council stories from his childhood about how drug use affected him and friends.
“If you allow a [marijuana] store, it is my personal belief that it makes it more easily accessible for people to get,” he said, adding that drugs have destroyed a lot of lives in this country and the world.
Bill Lacy, a candidate for school board in the most recent primary election, said he was also opposed to allowing marijuana sales, saying that high schools are “drowning” in underperforming “dopers.”
Utility rates discussed
Lynn Cassisdy inquired with the council if any energy efficiency rebates are available to individual electric customers in the city. The council asked the electrical supervisor, Richard Hixson to address the topic.
Hixson said that, in the past, the city has used efficiency rebates from its wholesale power supplier, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), to make system-wide upgrades. Projects have included upgrading the power distribution system and switching to LED street lights. He said those projects have increased the overall efficiency of the city’s system, resulting in electric rates that are among the lowest in the state, which benefits every user.
Although the city has not offered efficiency rebate programs to individual customers in the past, he did say that he is considering it in the future after several inquiries from business customers.
Hixson also noted that he is expecting a 6.45 percent increase in wholesale rates from BPA next year.
Jewel Ziehen asked if a senior citizen discount rate could be made available. Knauss asked the council’s Finance Committee to consider that at their next meeting.
Wordell Henderson questioned why his water bill is so high, explaining that his family only uses 3,000 gallons of water but is charged for a minimum 5,000 gallons. Councilman Payton Norvell explained that the utility needs to collect a certain minimum charge in order to maintain the system’s infrastructure.
Roger West asked the council if anything could be done about nuisance properties in town, especially ones with broke-down vehicles that sit unused. He described Chewelah as becoming a “junky town.” Knauss said that the city would likely need to go to court against those offending property owners but that is very expensive. She said she wishes more people would take pride in their properties but she would look into the existing nuisance to see if a remedy can be found.
The next regular meeting of the Chewelah City Council will be Wednesday, September 6, at 6:30 p.m. in the city hall council chambers.