When the City of Oakland voted to impose a special tax on medical marijuana dispensaries in 2009, Steve DeAngelo, a leader of one of the city’s cannabis clubs, told CNN, “It is important because the city of Oakland is facing a massive deficit like many jurisdictions in California … and we decided to step up to the plate and make a contribution to the city in a time of need.”
The 2009 tax measure imposed a 1.8% gross receipts tax on the dispensaries and passed with an 80% majority.
The next year, voters increased the tax rate to 5%, which is tacked onto the city’s 9.75% sales tax.
Oakland was the first city in California to pass such a tax. Since that time, similar taxes have been passed in a host of municipalities, including Stockton (4%), Sacramento (4%), and San Jose (7%). In 2010, according to the journalist Kay Bell, ten jurisdictions in California put a marijuana tax measure on the ballot and all ten passed.
In Mammoth Lakes, a special tax on marijuana was discussed from the get-go during deliberations regarding legalization of local marijuana dispensaries, yet Mammoth’s Town Council has buried the idea, even as it proposes laying off police officers and eliminating services (Whitmore Pool).
Let’s take a trip down memory lane. From The Sheet, circa January 2011:
It was (then) Mayor Skip Harvey’s understanding, as well as the understanding of at least one of the proprietors of Mammoth’s marijuana dispensaries, that at some point in the future, the Town would levy a special tax on the sale of pot.
This, however, is apparently not the understanding of Councilmember John Eastman.
Mammoth’s Town Council debated the efficacy of instituting an additional local sales tax on marijuana at its regular meeting Wednesday.
Mayor Skip Harvey, coming off the MLPD staffing discussion, jokingly suggested to Eastman that collecting a tax from the dispensaries would be a great way to fund the School Resource Officer position.
“I’m not even going to go there,” a frustrated Eastman declared.
Where Council did go was a brief discussion of how and when to discuss the taxation.
“I don’t want to spend money on a special election, but we need to be ready for 2012,” explained Harvey, who was responsible for bringing the discussion to the table. A tax on the dispensaries would have to go to the voters for approval. According to Mayor Pro Tem Jo Bacon the idea was not included in the June 2010 election because “we had our hands full trying to get the ordinance passed.” Bacon was referring to Measure M, which was the zoning code amendment that allowed dispensaries to be set up in town.
“It fell off the radar then,” Harvey added.
Research Harvey had done showed that the tax could realistically be set anywhere from 2.5 percent to 10 percent. Go much higher than that and prices at the dispensaries would become too high and buyers would go back to the black market for product.
At 5 percent Harvey estimated the Town could collect $25,000 per dispensary, per year.
Eastman was against the idea of taxing a business more just because the Town could.
“I take offense to government taxing my business and I look at the dispensaries as another type of small business,” Eastman explained.
Bacon and Wood were not against the tax but felt now was too early to discuss it.
“Let’s wait until the fall when the businesses have been operational for awhile,” Bacon suggested.
“This is low on my radar,” Wood said. “I need to know the work plan for next year first.”
When asked last week why Council has neglected to revisit this issue, Jo Bacon maintained that Skip Harvey had looked into it, and she claims Skip concluded that the process was just too cumbersome to bother with.
Funny, because Town Attorney Andrew Morris told The Sheet last week that he doesn’t think it would be too difficult at all to put a marijuana tax measure on the ballot.
And Mayor Matthew Lehman said last week that he supports a special tax on marijuana. “We said we were gonna do it. We probably should look at it,” he said.
Speaking of Lehman, I spoke with him over lunch at Gomez’s last week, and I asked him about the police staffing situation.
According to Lt. John Mair, the Mammoth Lakes Police Dept. could lose up to five sworn officers in the next month.
Mair gave the following rundown:
Marty Thompson was scheduled to start with the Mono County Sheriff’s Dept. this week.
Ron Gladding has found a job elsewhere. His last day is Dec. 1
Mair, Jesse Gorham and Sgt. Paul Robles are all expected to retire in December. Their last days: Mair (14th), Gorham (16th) and Robles (28th).
Lehman said, “I’m comfortable with the MLPD [proposed] cuts (The Town has proposed reducing its sowrn MLPD staffing from 17 to 10 in order to reduce costs and help pay for the airport litigation settlement).
“I would not like to see them cut as heavily,” added Lehman. “I’d prefer a solution where they’re not paid as much.”
Lehman would like to see a new pay tier in the salary structure.
He added that the Mammoth Lakes Police Officers’ Association’s lawyer didn’t do the union any favors by calling the media and telling everyone who would listen that Mammoth is not a safe place.
Speaking of pay structures, Mono County ranks 4th highest among 57 California Counties in employee pay. The average Mono County employee, according to the State Controller’s Office, made $64,428 annually (as of 2010).
The Town of Mammoth Lakes ranked 43rd out of 480 reporting California cities, with an average employee salary of $67,921.
According to the website (www.publicpay.ca.gov) established by Controller John Chiang’s office, “The public employee salary data collected and published by the Controller’s Office is based on unaudited information as received from the local and state government offices.”
By comparison, Inyo County ranked 27th out of 57 counties reporting an average salary of $47,645.
No county of comparable size (under 50,000 population) could boast an average salary within $15,000 of Mono County’s number.
Mono County also ranked 9th out of 57 counties with a 41:1 resident-to-employee ratio.
For comparision’s sake, the average salary at the Mammoth Community Water District was listed at $56,769 and the average for the Southern Mono Healthcare District was $47,692.
California’s top ten:
1. Los Angeles County: $70,115
2. Santa Clara County: $68,355
3. Monterey: $65,139
4. Mono: $64,428
5. Napa: $61,649
6. Sonoma: $60,743
7. Ventura: $60,621
8. Marin: $58,756
9. Solano: $57,923
10. Sacramento: $57,196