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Pendleton could use pot revenue to fix potholes

Council talks about ways to use $200,000 of expected revenue from tax
Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on February 28, 2018 4:02PM

A sign warning of a bump stands in front of a large pothole that has been filled with gravel in January 2017 on Westgate in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

A sign warning of a bump stands in front of a large pothole that has been filled with gravel in January 2017 on Westgate in Pendleton.

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As the city starts to collect thousands of dollars from taxes on recreational marijuana sales, the Pendleton City Council’s interest in how to spend the money is starting to bud.

At a city council workshop Tuesday, City Manager Robb Corbett said the city is projecting to generate $203,367 in marijuana revenue in the 2018 calendar year and he wants direction on how it should be spent.

The idea that gained the most traction was Mayor John Turner’s proposal to spend 50 percent of revenue on street maintenance and repair, or “pot for potholes” as Councilor Paul Chalmers referred to it. The council is currently trying to figure out how to increase its road repair budget from $781,000 to $1.2 million, which would stop street conditions from eroding further. Turner said that some of the marijuana money could help in that area.

While Turner’s was the most popular, other councilors pitched their own ideas.

Chalmers suggested the council put half of marijuana tax revenue toward a fund that would provide replacements for capital expenses.

When it came to city vehicles breaking down or equipment failing, Chalmers said the city was often reactive instead of budgeting for their eventual replacement.

Councilor Scott Fairley wants to save the money while the council gets a better hold of their longterm budget outlook.

Fairley pointed to a projected decrease in the beginning fund balance, the money the city uses to cover operating expenses between the start of the fiscal year in July and getting property tax revenue in November.

City staff is projecting the beginning fund balance will fall from $3 million in the 2018-2019 fiscal year to $1.8 million in the 2022-2023 fiscal year. Corbett has said the ideal beginning fund balance is $4 million.

But Councilor Dale Primmer argued that the council needed to make a good faith effort toward improving street funding. Primmer said roads was the top topic discussed during every community meeting he’s attended.

“I think it would be a mistake if we take this and stick it in some nebulous place that is not visible,” he said.

While the council reached a consensus and directed Corbett to explore sending marijuana money toward streets, Turner warned that the longterm future of the city’s revenue from cannabis was still up int he air, especially after Pendleton’s revenue figures went public.

“I suspect that as the cities around Eastern Oregon see how much money Pendleton is bringing in through marijuana tax revenues, they may want to change their mind on whether or not they want allow retail sales to their own citizens,” he said. “Who knows? If that happens, I think that would cause our revenues to go down and not go up, but that has yet to be determined.”


Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.


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