Amherst eyes pot revenues for Black reparations

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/2/2021 8:53:46 PM

AMHERST — Amherst officials are considering using money generated from adult-use marijuana sales in town to create a new account that would be used for offering reparations to Black residents.

While no definitive decision has been made about how this fund will be set up or how money from it will be used, its creation will be refined when the Finance Committee meets June 10, Chairman Andy Steinberg said at a meeting Tuesday.

The Town Council has instructed the Finance Committee to develop a plan for such a fund by identifying a stream of revenue that can support it and have a recommendation completed for the council’s June 21 meeting. On that night, town officials are expected to vote on the fiscal year 2022 budgets for the town, elementary schools and Jones Library.

Steinberg, who is also an at-large councilor, said the plan being contemplated would place $206,000 from next year’s reserves into the new stabilization fund.

Based on earlier discussions, Steinberg said that the fund would be in place by late fall and instituted by the town manager, but that no money would be expended from it until the town gets legal advice on the allowable uses.

Figures provided by Finance Director Sean Mangano show that in fiscal year 2020, the town received $206,135 in taxes from marijuana sales and $206,334 in impact fees. Since fiscal year 2019, when the first retailer, Rise, opened on Meadow Street, the town has taken in $245,843 in taxes and $329,288 in impact fees.

The tax money could be used for reparations, though those revenues are already supporting other spending in the budget. The impact fees, though, are more limited in purposes they can be used for and likely can’t be directed to reparations.

Amherst gets 3% from the tax collected by the state in a similar manner to how meals and hotel and motel taxes are brought in. The 3% community impact fee is paid to the town directly as part of sales and is to be set aside for initiatives such as education.

Last month, the council created the African Heritage Reparation Coalition, a group that will determine the best way to promote equity and justice and make restitution for past harms. Its draft charge contains a plan for developing ongoing funding streams to repair past harms committed by the town against Black people, an allocation plan to be determined and approved by the broader Black community and additional repair for anti-Black structural and communal racism, such as through public events and activities.

The coalition would be made up of six Black residents, including four former or current appointed or elected officials in Amherst, and one representative from Reparations for Amherst.

If an account is ready, Amherst might do programs similar to Evanston, Illinois, which became the first community to offer reparations. This year, qualifying households in Evanston can receive up to $25,000 for down payments or home repairs. 

Michele Miller, co-founder of Reparations for Amherst and advocate for using all marijuana revenues for reparations, said the discussion and eventual plan is a step toward reparative justice.

“We were encouraged by the dedication and ingenuity of Finance Committee members and staff to put forth a meaningful proposal for reparations in the FY22 budget,” Miller said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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