A cannabis-based business tax will be on the June ballot for Merced residents after a vote this week, though one city leader said the plan doesn't provide enough structure to guarantee how the funding would be allocated between city departments.
The Merced City Council approved wording in the measure with a 6-1 vote on Tuesday that will appear on the ballot on June 5. The estimated $1 million in funding would be used on police, fire, and parks and recreation services.
Councilman Michael Belluomini cast the "no" vote after saying the city should add language that would guarantee at least 20 percent of funding would go annually to each of the three services identified. The remaining 40 percent would be up the council's discretion.
Without those guarantees, the ordinance sets up a scenario where 90 percent of funding could, for example, go to police and the much smaller fraction could be split between the other services, Belluomini said.
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"I think if we were to do that, people would feel like we tricked them," Belluomini said.
The city has a history of underfunding parks and recreation, he said, pointing to the slashing of positions and funding in the department during the Great Recession. The department hasn't had a director in about a decade.
So leaving the discretion in the hands of future councils doesn't do enough to ensure parks and recreation programs for young people will get funding, Belluomini said.
The councilman said Wednesday he hasn't ruled out writing an opposition opinion on the ordinance, which would appear in the voter information guide. He wrote a similar opposition in 2014 against the move to districts, because he argued the city should have three districts rather than six.
Having a dissenting voice could matter, because the cannabis tax measure is a special tax that will need the support of two-thirds of voters.
About 66 percent of voters said they would support a 15 percent tax ceiling, which is even higher than what the measure will ask for in June, according to a survey from November.
City staffers recommended leaving the language out, saying it would only lead to unnecessary restrictions down the road.
The plan, if adopted by voters, would start most types of weed businesses off with smaller 3 percent to 4 percent taxes with the option to raise taxes up to 10 percent in the future. That includes dispensaries, manufacturing and other business types.
The ballot measure is "crafted very narrowly" and comes with the recommendation of the city's marijuana consultant, Mayor Mike Murphy said. He said it is best that city leaders allow future leaders the ability to fluctuate funding to fit the needs of the city.
He brushed off any effects that may come from Belluomini's opposition.
"I think the residents of Merced will see through that and I think there's support in taxing cannabis," he said.