The Colusa City Council agreed to use $15,000 from its cannabis fund to create a needs assessment report for the purpose of applying for grants for economic development.
The $15,000 to Golden Oaks Business Services will be the first dip into the pot of money generated from the city’s developer agreements with cannabis manufacturing companies.
City Manager Jesse Cain said a needs assessment report is a collection of information generated from public meetings, public comments, and data gathering, such as job loss from businesses that have closed in recent years.
“We need that information for grants and stuff,” Cain said, at the council’s June 16 meeting. “I talked to the mayor and Tom Reische, who is on the ad hoc committee for the cannabis fund, and they thought this would be a good use of those funds.”
Colusa Mayor Josh Hill said a needs assessment report is a way to move the city forward with economic development.
“It’s what those cannabis funds are there for,” Hill said. “This is a way to get our foot in the door and get the ball rolling. It will help get some stuff moving.”
The city has about $350,000 in cannabis-related revenue, and expects that fund to increase over the next few fiscal quarters, officials said.
Councilman Greg Ponciano, who was mayor when the fund was created and appointed the members to the ad hoc, voted against using the money to generate the needs report, largely because of the current financial crisis and the city’s lack of transparency on economic development plans.
“We agreed to try and sit on that money as long as possible to get the largest bang for the buck,” Ponciano said. “I’m really opposed to cracking open that piggy bank for this purpose.”
Ponciano said that even though the expense is just $15,000, he feared the money would become easier to spend once the bank was opened.
He also said he felt the city was being short-sighted, considering the City Council had not talked about economic development or what grants were being applied for at any regular meeting.
“The council as a whole has never discussed, at a meeting, economic development and what direction we think (the city) ought to go,” he said. “We have not received public input on it because it’s not been agenized.”
Although the City Council had a public workshop on the potential Pirelli Cable project on March 10, Ponciano disagrees that the scope of the workshop went beyond that to full economic development strategies. He also said zoom workshops and social media are insufficient to measure public participation.
Ponciano said the term “economic development” is too broad, and the council should have a better feel on what it is, how the city will spend money, what the estimated return will be, and what the city can afford.
“That is the first question,” he said.
Ponciano said asking the public if they want economic development is easy.
“They are going to say, ‘hell yeah,’” he said. “You have to ask the second part, ‘are you willing to pay for it’ because the city can’t afford to pay for it. We’re facing up to a $500,000 deficit. We’ve never passed the $500,000 deficit in the history of Colusa, so I think we need to be measured in this.”
Ponciano suggested the city wait for the full council to conduct an official meeting on economic development to determine the steps and cost to the public. He also said the council should wait for a report from the cannabis ad hoc committee, along with ideas how they want to spend the money.
“I’m 100 percent for economic development,” he said. “I’m 100 percent for holding up our businesses and trying to help them, but I think we need to understand more what that means and what it is going to cost; not just the first phase, but what it is going to cost in total.”
The Council ultimately voted 4-1, with Ponciano in dissent, to move ahead with the needs assessment report.
Cain said authorizing the report would be just the first step, and that public meetings would be held to collect input as the report is generated.
Ponciano suggested the city should actually put an economic development question on the November ballot to ask the public if they were willing to pay for progress.
“Ask them for a half cent sales tax,” he suggested. “Ask them for a quarter cent sales tax. Ask them whatever. But the first question is easy. Do you want it? Yeah. The second question is harder. Can you afford it?”
Ponciano said the local and state budgets were too precarious not to be cautious.
“We need to know what we are going after and exactly how we are going to get there,” he said.
Planning Commissioner Richard Selover agreed that spending a little money to move the city forward was fine, but advised the council not to lose sight of the city’s original intent of the cannabis funds: to help the city meet expenses.
He also reminded the City Council that the city has spent about $500,000 on economic development reports that are currently collecting dust.
“Unfortunately, we’re still 21,000 people in the county; 6,000 people in the city, and our overall economic production is in the decline,” Selover said. “We’ve got less grocery stores, we’ve got less drug stores, we’ve got less of everything and we have already spent all this money on all these reports that were going to fix it. I’m OK with trying to promote. I’m all for trying to move forward. I just want to use a lot of caution before using this fund, which was earmarked for keeping the city liquid, for another pie in the sky.”
City Council members Dave Markss, Brent Nobles, and Mayor Hill voted to move forward with the needs report as the grant deadlines are looming. Councilmember Tom Reishe was absent.
The city’s economic consultant, Kristy Levings, who is only currently contracted for the Pirelli project, will prepare the needs assessment.
The cost is not to exceed $15,000, Cain said, but thought it was possible it would be completed for less. ■