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Public input wanted on spending cannabis taxes

It’s probably best to begin this communication with the standard disclaimer that these are my views, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the council nor the city of Medford. In fact, I am writing this as a concerned citizen of Medford who wants to see our community benefit from cannabis tax revenue.

For historical reference, let’s rewind back to fall of 2014, when I attended my first Budget Committee meeting as a council candidate. I have a clear recollection of the chuckles when our state lobbyist gave a polling update that suggested that Measure 91 might fail, followed by presumptuous comments about what minuscule amounts of money the city was supposedly going to receive from the cannabis tax revenue. Clearly, they were wrong, and the majority of Medford citizens and the council decided to get on the right side of history and prepare for the tide that is recreational cannabis.

Fast forward to now. Measure 91 passed. The city’s commercial ban failed. And much to the chagrin of the opponents and chuckling officials, the city now has accumulated $1.2 million, and is projected to receive approximately $600,000 annually.

Now, the big question is: How and where should we dedicate this new revenue stream?

I shared some potential ideas in a guest opinion back in early 2016. I still hold those opinions, but since then we have had numerous council meetings and constituent emails expressing the need for us to deal with some of our societal issues.

To date, most of the public comment has urged us to, just to name a few, fund another aquatic facility, deal with our homeless population, fix our workforce housing crisis, facilitate addiction and mental illness recovery, or beautify downtown and the Greenway.

Funding our Public Employees Retirement System deficit has not been suggested by a single person during our meetings, and our email inboxes are nearly void of such suggestions — in my opinion, rightfully so. This problem was created in Salem, and any potential solutions are going to have to come from Salem. Currently, our best option is to set aside a few bucks and wait. If we prematurely spend money to fund the gap, and then Salem comes up with some assistance, then what we had already spent most likely won’t be supplanted or reimbursed.

Now, what I do when I think of potential uses of this money, and I encourage all of you readers to do, is look at what it is that ails us.

Homelessness — This issue is wreaking havoc on our community. The societal costs of ER visits, police and fire calls, theft and vandalism, Greenway sweeps and the like are wasteful and unsustainable. We can’t keep squeezing the balloon and hope for tangible results. The tax revenue could be used to facilitate more permanent supportive housing that could help people navigate their way off of the streets through some sort of upward mobility program.

Aquatics facility — It is unacceptable that, in a city with a population of nearly 80,000 people, we only have one dilapidated pool that is on its last leg. Our private pools help meet dem,an, but they are often unattainable for lower income families.

Community/youth enrichment — The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study suggests when children grow up with adverse experiences they are statistically more likely to engage in a life of crime and substance abuse. By investing these dollars in supportive programs, we are not only helping families now, but we are also helping reduce future detrimental impacts to our public safety, business, tourism and overall livability. Personally, I believe this should be our first priority.

These are just a few of the options the city has asked the public to prioritize in a community survey. Contrary to some of the comments I see on social media, the council does care about our community and values your concerns and opinions. So, please take three minutes to hop on your smartphone, go to cityofmedford.org, and take our survey. You can also find the survey on our Facebook page, where you can share the post with your friends and family. Thank you in advance for your participation.

Clay Bearnson represents Ward 2 and serves as vice president of the Medford City Council.