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Pittsfield City Council Establishes Marijuana Fund, OKs EMA Incentive Package

A bespectacled man in a suit stands before a rostrum of seated councilors.
Josh Landes
Electro Magnetic Applications, Inc. makes a presentation to the Pittsfield City Council.

As the final meeting before the election on November 5th, the Pittsfield City Council passed plans to direct use of marijuana tax revenue and an incentive package for a tech company.

The city will begin channeling 25% of its income from marijuana taxes into a new Public Works Stabilization Fund when the next fiscal year begins in July 2020. Pittsfield Finance Director Matt Kerwood offered stats on exactly how much the city has taken in so far.

“The total that was received by the city in FY19 was $95,872. 50% of that, or roughly $45,000 was deposited — $47,936 to be exact – was deposited per council order approved early last year directly into our general stabilization fund," said Kerwood. "So the remaining $47,936 was deposited into the general fund.”

The fiscal year 2020 income – between July 1st and September 30th — was just over $206,000. Kerwood explained the legal reasoning behind the wait to begin allocating marijuana money to the kind of public works projects, like road repairs, the council would like to use it for.

“What the Department of Revenue doesn’t want you to do is to allocate the resources, the revenue source, and let’s say, your local receipts as you go in and set your tax rate and then take those funds and allocate them in this case, into a stabilization fund, because you’re basically double dipping,” said the finance director.

The original petition for the new fund came from Councilors Melissa Mazzeo, a candidate for mayor, and Chris Connell, calling for 50% of the weed revenue to go into the new fund. Councilor John Krol was the one vote against the plan.

“Every single year, we have a city that is ever changing, issues come up," said Krol. "To lock it in to 25% no matter what that revenue is simply for this purpose is not responsible for moving forward into the future.”

The council also approved both halves of a plan to attract Colorado based Electro Magnetic Applications, Inc. to the Berkshire Innovation Center. The company wants to build a space environment test facility in the city.

The council approved a certified project and tax increment financing agreement, as well as the use of $140,000 in Pittsfield Economic Development Funds. Established by General Electric as a part of its settlement with the city over its extensive pollution of its land and water, just over $3 million remains in the fund that once held $10 million.

“The $140,000 will be dispersed when they execute a purchase order for the high vacuum chamber," said Pittsfield Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer. She says the money will be released in chunks as different requirements are met by EMA.

“$80,000 also requires a letter of intent to lease space here," said Ruffer. "The next $20,000 is added if they lease space in the BIC.”

She says the city is confident that EMA will lease that space.

“The other $40,000 also gets released at the execution of the letter of intent and the execution of the purchase order for the chamber, when those two conditions are met, but it is going to be forgiven on a separate schedule from the first $100,000,” she told the council.

That first $100,000 will be forgiven over a decade, while the $40,000 will be forgiven if the company creates six jobs that pay at least $60,000 a year with benefits by December 31st, 2023.

There is a caveat if EMA fails to meet those requirements.

“And the full funding amount would be repaid to the city if within that ten years they relocate out of the city or their employment drops below the two initial for more than 18 months,” explained Ruffer.

Now, EMA must negotiate with the BIC for space, assess its financial needs to locate equipment into the center, and order it.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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