McLean County plans to use a portion of revenue from a new sales tax on recreational cannabis to pay for mental health services, based on a plan the County Board adopted Tuesday.
The County Board approved taxing marijuana sales at 3.75% in rural areas of the county and 3% in incorporated areas. Both are state maximum limits. Cities can charge an additional 3% tax.
Board member Carlo Robustelli, D-Bloomington, proposed the county devote 35% of cannabis tax revenue to help the county enhance its mental health response.
“I want to be very clear, we don’t have enough revenue to address community-facing behavioral health programs, and we don’t want to be put in a position where we are going to use property taxes to do that,” Robustelli said.
The amendment passed in a 14-5 vote as several members argued the effort was premature when it’s not clear how much money cannabis sales will generate.
“While I support your concept of helping out in this area, I think we are premature,” said board member Gerald Thompson, R-Colfax. “We don’t know how much money we are going to raise. We don’t know what the cost associated with these new regulations are going to be.”
The county currently has no recreational cannabis dispensaries. The Green Solution in Normal, which already sells medical marijuana, has applied for a state license to sell recreational cannabis. The county hasn’t budgeted any cannabis tax revenue for 2020.
The county currently uses a portion of sales tax revenue which Bloomington and Normal generate to fund its mental health initiatives which are in various stages of development, including telepsychiatry, a mental health triage and a frequent user program.
Board member Josh Barnett, R-Bloomington, said the county should be willing to up its financial commitment as Bloomington and Normal have.
“I do think this sends a powerful message, especially to our municipal colleagues, that we are putting even more skin in the game when it comes to behavioral health issues in the community,” Barnett said.
McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage addressed the board to express his desire that cannabis tax revenue help his department offset the cost of officer training. He noted a drop in funding from court fines and fees since a new state law took effect in 2018 has forced local departments to cover at least some of the costs of the training.
Sandage said his department has had to budget an additional $70,000 for the state-mandated training this year.
“Bottom line is we have to have the officers on the streets and the correctional officers in the jail to deal with these issues before we can provide more services,” Sandage said.
County Board member William Caisley, R-Normal, proposed the county delay a vote on the mental health funding and send it to Finance Committee for a more detailed review. The board struck that down in a 12-7 vote.
Board member Sharon Chung, D-Bloomington, said the county can revisit the issue if the financial impacts change in the future.
“When everyone says it’s tying hands that makes it sound like any future versions of this County Board will not be able to discuss this as adults,” Chung said. “It seems kind of ridiculous and shortsighted in my opinion.”
The County Board also approved an updated a new zero-tolerance drug policy that reflects the new cannabis law. Cannabis remains a banned substance for county employees on the job.
The County Board also approved a new three-year labor agreement with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees at the McLean County Highway Department.
The previous contract for snowplow operators, truck drivers and laborers expired in December.
The new deal calls for pay raises of 2% in 2020 and 2.25% in 2021-22.
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