Northampton to use $1.6M in pot fees for new Resilience Hub

  • Northampton City Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/2/2021 8:34:09 PM

NORTHAMPTON — City officials are planning to use $1.6 million in marijuana community impact fees to help fund a new Community Resilience Hub in Northampton.

The hub aims to support residents who face chronic and acute stress, such as those who are homeless, and act as an emergency center if there is a disaster.

The city has collected $3.1 million in community impact fees over the past few years from marijuana businesses. Earlier this year, Mayor David Narkewicz announced the city will no longer collect these annual fees, making Northampton potentially the first city or town in the state to do so.

Narkewicz submitted an order to the City Council to use $2.6 million of the fee money for projects, including the $1.6 million for the hub. The council’s finance committee took an initial vote on the order and approved the spending on Thursday night.

“A lot of the concerns, potential concerns, about this industry mostly came from people who opposed legalization and thought there would be increases in crime, or there would be increases in drug abuse, et cetera,” Narkewicz said of the fees in January. “And I think those concerns have not materialized. We certainly haven’t seen that here in Northampton.”

He told the council Thursday that there were also social equity reasons he dropped collecting the fees. 

“The city has been trying to work toward lowering barriers to the industry, including getting rid of the mitigation fee as a major barrier,” he said. The city reserves the right to collect fees if specific issues arise.

The order also asks to use $1 million for road improvements on Pleasant Street, $15,000 for an accessible bus stop on Bridge Road and $15,000 for a bike share station outside Walter Salvo House.

At-large Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra said the hub was “one the most if not the most important and innovative undertaking that I’ve seen the city take up in my time.”

Ward 3 Councilor James Nash also was enthusiastic about funding a resiliency hub and the other projects in the order. “I can’t like this financial order enough,” he said.

Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge read from an email she got from a resident about the project.

“I think it would be wonderful if counselors could raise the issue of accountability to people of color harmed by the war on drugs in decisions related to the marijuana community impact fee usage tonight,” LaBarge said. The resident also suggested that use of the fees be guided by a board of Black and brown residents who have been impacted by the criminalization of drugs.

Narkewicz said that Community Action Pioneer Valley, the city’s major partner on the hub project, recently received a grant to support the project.

“They are intending to hire a Resilience Hub community organizer, basically who’s going to be a staff person who’s going to go out into the community and work with people, including the people you’re describing, around figuring out the needs that this hub can serve … This is for the brick and mortar piece of it. The programming piece of it is a whole other process that will happen working with stakeholders, working with community members.”

The city is currently looking at possible sites, Narkewicz told the council.

Ward 5 councilor Alex Jarrett asked how the hub will be accountable in decision-making to those who will use the space.

The mayor said the funding was for the physical building, and more specifics about the hub and its operation have not been worked out yet.

“None of those decisions have been made,” he said. “But that will surely be part of designing the operational aspects of the hub,” he said.

The project is “an exciting, innovative service model,” Ward 7 Councilor Maiore said. “For someone who’s worked in social services, it’s kind of a dream.”

Maiore said future hub users should be involved in the planning.

“I think we need more than having them part of the discussion, I think they need to be part of the decision making,” she said.

In other action Thursday, the council passed “A Resolution Decriminalizing Controlled Substance Possession as well as Cultivation and Distribution of Psychedelic Plants” and approved a resolution to declare a climate emergency.

The climate resolution reads: “the members of the Northampton City Council call on City government and staff and all Northampton civic groups, businesses, and residents to commit to a climate mobilization effort to bring net City-wide carbon emissions to zero no later than the year 2050.”

The council also passed a resolution to create a select committee to review and revise City Council rules and committees.

“We’re in a new world here and we really should evaluate how we’re doing our meetings … and take advantage of living in this time and using this technology,” said Nash, the Ward 3 councilor. “I think it’s been a real boon for a lot of people to be able to Zoom into meetings. We’ve seen lots of new faces, heard lots of news ideas, and we don’t want to lose that, but I think there are things we want to preserve as well.” Other councilors agreed.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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