By Ilsa Minor
ESCANABA — Interested in opening a commercial marijuana establishment in the city of Escanaba? Get out your wallet. The city council resolved Thursday that opening a marijuana business will cost $10,000 in fees for the first year.
Setting the fees was not initially part of Thursday’s agenda, but was added after City Manager Patrick Jordan added passing a resolution to set the date for when the city would begin accepting applications from businesses.
Jordan’s proposed resolution would have delayed businesses from applying until Oct. 10, a date most on the council felt was too far out. Instead, the council decided to pass an amended resolution allowing applications to be submitted Oct. 3 and fast tracked a second resolution setting the fees that was not scheduled to be discussed until next month.
Jordan’s reasons for wanting applications to be delayed until Oct. 10 were largely related to what he perceived as public distaste for the commercial marijuana sales.
“The waiting period gives us time to kind of train and organize administratively here, but also gives the public a chance to do a referendum on the ordinance if they so choose to do so,” said Jordan, who later added those opposing marijuana establishments could, theoretically, get an injunction until the issue could be on a ballot.
However, the delay didn’t sit well with some on the council, which had already extended the sunset clause from Sept. 15 to Sept. 30 earlier this month to allow for the city’s own regulatory ordinances to be passed. Both of those ordinances, which opt in to the state’s commercial marijuana law and set rules for where and how commercial retail establishments can operate, were also passed Thursday.
“In my personal opinion, we gave the public ample opportunities with public hearings, first readings, second readings, public hearings at the (planning) commission, as well. I just don’t see the logic if we have the sunset clause to the 30th,” said Council Member Tyler DuBord.
After some discussion and assurance the city’s legal counsel for commercial marijuana related issues, Laura Genovich of Foster Swift, could train the relevant city staff and produce an application by Oct. 3, the council voted 4-1 to begin allowing applications on the earlier date. The sole dissenting vote came from Council Member Karen Moore, who has historically held positions that would limit marijuana sales in the city.
With the earlier application start date, the city needed to set a fee schedule for applicants. Working off a draft resolution presented by Genovich, the council had two decisions to make: how much should the annual fee cost and how much should the application fee be?
By state law, the maximum amount a municipality can charge for an annual fee is $5,000, which has essentially become the standard fee across the state. However, the law does not regulate how much or how little the city can charge to file an application.
“I say, make them both $5,000,” said Council Member Todd Flath, who was the first to throw out any value for the application fee.
The fee is significantly higher than in some communities across the state. Genovich noted she was aware of one community that charges as little as $300 for a commercial marijuana application.
“What you want to do anytime you’re setting a fee, whether it’s for marijuana or anything else, is make sure that the purpose is not to generate revenue, but to offset costs that the city is incurring,” she said.
Initially, DuBord said he felt the fee was high and should be closer to $1,000, but other council members were quick to agree with Flath.
“To me that seems low when you consider the time the clerk’s office is going to put into it, public safety, zone enforcement, zoning — you’re going to have a lot of people reviewing each application; making onsite visits,” said Council Member Ron Beauchamp.
“If we had just just limited the number of stores this would be a different story, but now we have unlimited stores. That’s going to take more time,” she said.
The board voted unanimously to set the fees at $5,000 each.
In other business, the council:
— Heard an update on the sale and development of the former Delta County Jail and Chamber sites. Negotiations related to purchase agreements have sputtered a bit due to two of the developers attempting to negotiate terms with council members and without legal counsel. Plans to meet with one of the developers directly were discussed, but the city’s attorney, Lisa Vogler, expressed she felt it was best the developers indicate who was representing them legally to move forward.
— Approved a contract with McLean Engineering to evaluate the city’s existing pole attachment agreements — some of which date back to the 1970s — are in compliance with current state law. The evaluation was approved for up to $2,000 in costs, but Electric Department Superintendent Gerald Pirkola stated quotes for the work came in $1,323.
— Tabled a vote on an agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard for use of the municipal dock until the city attorney can review the contract.
— Approved asbestos removal from a previously condemned home located at 1607 N. 20th St. The removal, which will cost $1,335, was already included in estimated demolition costs for the structure.
— Went into closed session to discuss a written legal opinion with Vogler about a lawsuit recently filed in Delta County Circuit Court. The nature of the lawsuit was not revealed in open session Thursday, however it was noted the suit was related to the city’s electric department.