No decision on Community Agreement contribution requirements

  • Town Counsel John Barrett (l) discussing Athol’s host community agreements with cannabis retail and cultivation businesses at Tuesday meeting of the Select Board. Listening are board members, from left, William Chiasson, Stephen Raymond and Chair Rebecca Bialecki. Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 6/20/2019 9:35:26 PM
Modified: 6/20/2019 9:35:16 PM

ATHOL – At its meeting Tuesday night, the town’s Select Board was unable to determine the best way to ensure that those cannabis retail and cultivation businesses that have signed host community agreements with Athol meet the agreements’ requirement that they contribute to a non-profit or charitable organization. The contribution is supposed to go to a group or groups involved in drug abuse prevention and educating young people about the risks associated with marijuana.

“The language that we utilized to move forward with the agreement,” said Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, “was that the company will consider the recommendations of the (Select) Board or its designee. So, that’s the language we have before us.”

“Right now,” he continued, “if the board does nothing they would just follow the letter of the agreement; if the board has a recommendation, they would have to consider it.”

“When talked about this several months ago,” said Board Chair Rebecca Bialecki, “Holly (Young) and myself felt it probably didn’t make sense for the Board of Selectmen to be the group that makes recommendations, but instead talked about a committee of citizens who would recommend different groups. Hopefully, that would be more equitable as far as really looking at what the purpose of the donations might be for, and make a decision based on their impact and their ability to really reach the citizens of Athol. I don’t think it was ever the intent for the Select Board to decide who gets what.”

“I don’t think there was any final decision made,” she continued, “but at this point I think we are at a point where we need to start to assemble the people we might want to go to in assembling an ad hoc committee. We might want to ask people now if they’re interested.”

“I think the best way to approach this is to follow the language everybody signed off on,” said board member Lee Chauvette. “I don’t think it’s the intent of the language – it certainly wasn’t my intent – for a group of people to dictate to the private companies where their donations go.”

“My concern,” said Bialecki, “is that sometimes the non-profit with the biggest budget wins. Given that most of the marijuana facilities coming into this community are people from outside our region, they don’t have the depth of knowledge of the community-based services that we have. I would not want to some agency with headquarters in Greenfield or Fitchburg put on a big dog-and-pony show because they have a satellite office in Athol. I want to ensure our schools, our small volunteer organizations have the same ability to appeal for donations.”

“I was against this requirement from the beginning,” said Young, “because they’re private businesses and I don’t feel that any other businesses are being asked to do this.”

“I guess I feel if an organization is going to come here and make the kind of money that they anticipate making,” Bialecki responded, “I would expect them to give something back to our local community.”

MassGrow, will be the largest cultivation facility in Athol once it occupies the former L.P. Athol building on Chestnut Hill Avenue. Under its host community agreement, MassGrow is required to pony up $30,000 to “a maximum three charitable, research, educational, or community organizations.” The cultivation operations setting up shop at the former Agway site agreed to a donation of $15,000, and two retailers who hope to open in Athol – Elev8 and Blue Jays – each have agreed to $10,000 contributions.

“We have had some inquiries from community groups already sending letters,” said Bialecki, “to find out how to contact these people because they want to get in on the ground floor to get these charitable donations.”

Town Counsel John Barrett noted the town of Townsend had established at trust fund commission “that would make recommendations on the expenditure of any trust funds that weren’t otherwise designated for certain entities. I’m not sure if Athol has that, or it’s something you want to look into. I think you could appoint an ad hoc committee and do it annually.”

“How about if we just had on file in the office a list of possible agencies, organizations that have expressed interest to us,” said board member William Chiasson.

“The onus needs to go to the organizations that are going to be seeking the money,” said Chauvette. “Who’s going to want to sit on a committee, do all that work, and then make a recommendation that may not be followed anyway. Whether or not it’s the Board of Selectmen or its designee, if it’s a designee committee, it’s always going to be looked up as the town did this, the board did that. I think that we should stay right out of it, and by ‘we’ I mean the town overall.”

The board ultimately decided to hold off on any decision regarding how to address the issue until its next meeting on July 2.

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