August 18, 2023 at 1:41 p.m.
North Branch classifies cannabis in public places as on par with alcohol, tobacco
North Branch’s public spaces are not where you want to go to enjoy your recreational cannabis. The city council last week agreed to include all cannabis products, and this means edibles too, in city ordinance outlawing certain activities in parks, trails, public shelters. etc.
City Administrator Renae Fry explained to council there is no stated criminal penalty in the ordinance for offenders. Police in North Branch use alleged violations as teachable moments to educate possible offenders and recommend that they move along. This is the same approach that’s been applied to liquor consumption and use of tobacco; also prohibited in public and it seems to be effective.
Fry said public cannabis consumption that the city ordinance now prohibits— could be made a petty misdemeanor but traditionally the prosecution of such minor offenses isn’t cost effective.
The vote was 5-0 to amend the parks and trails liquor and tobacco rules to include all forms of cannabis.
Minnesota lawmakers legalized recreational marijuana use and possession of a limited amount as of Aug 1. Municipalities can apply stricter rules to the substance. Use in your home or on personal property is legal.
You may not use marijuana in your car.
In a related matter: the council heard from a couple of entrepreneurs during the open microphone segment of the council meeting. Their goal is to have a wholesale cannabis business. They have looked at the old movie theatre storefront on main street and they plan to have an agricultural rural cannabis operation that will generate product for the wholesale-only site.
They said there are no plans for a retail store. They have a year or so of preparation yet, but promised they will keep in touch with the city staff.
In the financial update agenda item, finance director Sharon Wright gave the overview on year-to-date and also presented some early 2024 budgeting information.
Wright, who has been with North Branch just one year, said she is seeing that the city hasn’t fully caught up with covid-time finance cuts and where property tax and city revenues and expenditures were a few years ago.
There were two years of reductions, and the city is losing ground. The idea that a city can experience growth, as North Branch has, and not comparatively increase the budget simply is not sustainable, she cautioned.
Administrator Fry added that the city has doubled its “capacity” for generating taxes over the last five years and not adjusting for revenues from the new parcels coming on-line is a “lost opportunity.”
Council saw data that illustrated the concern. The city last year collected 37 percent of what it mathematically could have based on tax capacity.
North Branch should be taking advantage of rate in the valuation growth. For example, Wright noted the city’s 37.68 percent rate this year, if left as is, will collect one million dollars more next year staying at 37.68 percent simply due to more parcels paying in.
The council was given an example of a $250,000 dwelling that increases in valuation by eight percent.
A minor hike to 41.5 percent rate on the same $250,000 residence increases the revenues from $1,018 per year to $1,121.
Wright said she’s been working with city departments heads to better define needs and prices of items for next year’s budgeting. She uses a couple of years’ of budget numbers on which to develop scenarios, not just the current budget, she added.
Administrator Fry also noted the council needs to look at its reserves policy. The current rule is no spending down until 100 percent of a year’s expenses is in reserves, which is much more conservative than the half-year that fiscal advisors look for. The city has about eight months in reserves according to the latest audit, and staff would like to see the policy reviewed.
Council continues to work on next year’s budget and tax levy until the end of the year, when the final budget is submitted to the county so tax statements can be printed. The statements taxpayers receive this fall contain numbers gleaned from preliminary maximum estimated budgets with a deadline to be adopted in September.
And, staff were directed to organize a “developers’ event” for mid October. Mayor Schieber suggested an open house style format, at a location other than city hall, most likely the library. The city can hear about developer project visions, learn what’s working in the system and what North Branch might improve —on from the eyes of the developers.