WHITMAN — Selectmen are referring a proposal for a moratorium on recreational marijuana dispensaries through at least June 30, 2018 to the Planning Board for evaluation and public hearing.
After a hearing the Planning Board would return its recommendations back to the Board of Selectmen for possible presentation to a Town Meeting.
The Tuesday, Feb. 14 vote came one month after the board voted in favor of a letter of support/non-opposition to a medical marijuana grow site in town. The moratorium would be based on a West Bridgewater law passed in December, and is designed to provide more time to develop zoning and other regulations compatible with state laws.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam had assigned Assistant Town Administrator Lisa Green to explore the issue of a moratorium and its legal ramifications. Lynam is also asking the Zoning Board of Appeals to look at potential zoning districts to encompass such businesses in the event the town ever permits them. That, too, would require public hearings.
“I’m going to look at it,” Lynam said of the zoning issue. “We may not do it this year, but a moratorium will give us time to address it before our next Town Meeting.”
He stressed the zoning issue is separate from a moratorium.
“This is not a proposal to bring in dispensaries,” he said. “It’s a recommendation that we look at the reality that they may come down the road, and if they do, we will at least be prepared.”
Green said the town had learned in January that the state Attorney General’s office had approved West Bridgewater’s marijuana moratorium draft.
“That’s where we took a lot of our language,” Green said of the Whitman proposal. “Where it had already been approved by the Attorney General, we didn’t have any feelings that they would not approve our moratorium.”
Green noted both communities are similar to each other.
Selectman Daniel Salvucci asked if the town could vote against permitting dispensaries in Whitman.
Green conceded that, if a medical marijuana grow site does open in town, it does open a door for possible future dispensaries by applying for a permit.
“Medical marijuana is protected by state law and permissive zoning,” Lynam said. “Recreational marijuana requires an approval and the … licenses may be issued, but must be less than the number of medical marijuana licenses.”
Should one medical marijuana grow site actually open — and no others — that would effectively bar any recreational dispensaries.
“Less than one is none,” Lynam said.
“It says it may not be issued as well,” Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said.
“This is al still new to the state, as well,” Green said. “The state is still weeding through what it’s going to do.”
Selectman Brian Bezanson pointed out that it took the state quite a while — two years — just to get the medical marijuana regulations ironed out.
Selectmen also heard a presentation on available cash for capital needs, as Lynam recommended limiting the use of one-time funds from a recent personal property windfall to one-time capital projects instead of for recurring costs.
“In the last two years we have been experiencing some unusual types of growth,” Lynam said. “I’ve received a number of calls from people regarding how and why we appropriate and provide money for various town operations, including schools.”
He used a PowerPoint presentation to outline “how we got to where we are today and where I think we’re going.”
Lynam outlined how property valuations over the past four years, with personal property values jumping significantly — from $30,298,858 in 2015 to $98,159,363 in 2016 only to begin declining again by about $4 million in 2017 — based on a National Grid property’s tax status.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Lynam said. “Because it’s personal property, it’s not an asset that continues to grow. Over the next several years, it will be depreciated and depleted on the tax books of the power company, and the results will be that they’re sending us valuations that are dropping anywhere from $5 [million] to $8 million a year.”
The levy limit each year is calculated by adding 2 ½ percent, new growth and any overrides. By 2016 the personal property growth showed up after the budgets had been passed for the year, Lynam said. It ended up offsetting the capital exclusion for technology upgrades in the schools.
Growth decreased from $1,328,292 in 2016 to $261,670 in 2017. Based on that history, Lynam has worked out proforma calculations for fiscal 2018 putting the 2017 levy limit at $23,982,789, setting aside almost $1 million in capital money from amended 2016 growth, then adding $599,570 as the 2 ½ percent increase and $275,000 in new growth.
“We are going to see is the reduction, once again, in the personal property tax,” he said. “This year, I think it will be closer to $6 million.”
By using the entire projected $24,857,359 for the general budget, a problem is created in that the personal property figure is going to continue to go down each year, Lynam argued.
“What I’m suggesting is that we treat the levy as if that money were not available to us … and use the additional $1 million to fund capital needs this year,” he said. “What I see happening is, each year that money’s going to continue to go down. Unless we find a significant source of new revenue, we’re going to have to live with those numbers.”
Salvucci agreed that using one-time money for the regular budget is fiscally irresponsible.
In other business, the board voted to table a discussion on the Planning Board’s request to reduce its membership from seven to five. Any change would require a Town Meeting warrant article to change the bylaw, and perhaps on the ballot since the positions are elected.
Lynam said the board’s chairman had indicated he has had trouble getting a quorum for some meetings and that perhaps reducing the board to five might help.
“But, as I understand it, the board is now at full strength, or certainly will be at the May elections because the vacancy has already been applied for and nomination papers,” Lynam said, recommending the postponement until the Planning Board can discuss it further.
Salvucci said appeals to the public on Facebook has prompted more interest for taking out nomination papers for the Planning Board, making a bylaw change unnecessary.