The Merced City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to designate 20 percent of a marijuana tax revenue to each of three city services.
If the special weed tax is passed on the June ballot with a two-thirds approval, the money generated by a special tax on cannabis businesses will be split among services provided by police, firefighters, and parks and recreation.
The vote this week designated a 20 percent split to each of those three services. The remaining 40 percent is up to the discretion of the City Council, but must go into those three services. The plan was originally championed by Councilman Michael Belluomini, who said parks and recreation is historically underfunded.
The council originally voted on Feb. 20 to leave all of the funds up for discretion, but city leaders reconsidered it after an outcry at multiple meetings in town.
After the vote, the audience at City Hall on Thursday applauded.
Councilman Josh Pedrozo voiced reservations, saying the city would be tying its own hands for future budgets. Ultimately, after prodding from the other city leaders, he agreed to support the earmarks.
Having a unanimous vote from the council is vital, Mayor Mike Murphy said, because the tax needs two-thirds approval from voters to pass.
Councilman Anthony Martinez called the plan the "everybody wins tax," because it would benefit three vital services.
Several residents spoke publicly, saying they supported the earmark for parks and recreation. Services for young people are important for keeping children out of gangs and away from illicit drugs, they argued.
Some residents asked for a larger guaranteed percentage for parks and recreation.
Edward Flores, a UC Merced professor, said public pools, libraries and other free services helped him steer clear of gang life. The father of twin boys said his time at local parks often makes it to social media, which is seen by friends and family who live out of the area.
"We want to have a city that we're proud of that we brag about to our friends," he said.