North Elba council considers rules for new grant program

North Elba town Supervisor Derek Doty and Councilor Emily Kilburn Politi are seen here during their board meeting on Tuesday, June 11. (News photo — Galen Halasz)

LAKE PLACID — With new cannabis tax revenue pouring in, the North Elba Town Council is now setting up the parameters of a local grant program that will allow qualified applicants to tap into those funds.

During the council’s regular meeting, councilors discussed crafting a new cannabis tax revenue policy, which would establish guidelines for how this new revenue should be used and at what value to cap grant proposals. With the recent opening of the first ever cannabis shop to fall under their jurisdiction, the town now receives significant revenue through New York state’s excise tax on cannabis sales.

Although there was some disagreement between councilors about what types of projects should be prioritized for funding in the policy, they were eventually able to agree about the nature of the overall guidelines for grant approval.

The council did not vote on adopting the policy on Tuesday, June 11. They won’t distribute any of the money until they officially accept their new policy, according to town Supervisor Derek Doty. He plans to have it on the agenda at North Elba’s July 9 board meeting.

Although the cannabis shop from which the town is receiving revenue, Elevate ADK, is under the purview of North Elba, it is also within the village of Saranac Lake, according to Doty. Because of this, the town could have chosen to give 100% of the taxes to Saranac Lake, but instead they chose to keep their share of 50%, which they intend to grant to “worthy causes,” he said.

The amount of revenue generated through cannabis sales is unpredictable, in part because it is higher when better quality cannabis products are sold, but as of May 14, the total amount of cannabis tax revenue the town has received so far this year is $61,586, according to town Budget Officer Catherine Edman.

Eligible categories

Councilor Emily Kilburn Politi listed several potential categories whose funding could be focuses of the town’s cannabis tax revenue grants. These included illicit drug abuse prevention education for fifth through eighth grade children, public safety and law enforcement, parks and recreational facilities, community development and support for the aging population.

There was primarily debate around whether this was too broad a range of focuses, and whether the money might be spread too thin by so many ventures. The board discussed paring down the list a little and putting a cap on grant awards to reduce the risk of running out of money. In the end, the board remained somewhat divided by the time the discussion concluded. Reached on Wednesday, Doty said they were still debating which categories of focuses to include in the policy. He said that the drug prevention and public safety and law enforcement categories were approved unanimously, but that housing initiatives will be taken out of the community development category and that the category of support for the aging population still needs to be better defined.

He said that there were also still some decisions to be made about whether to increase the grant proposal cap from $5,000 per awardee to $10,000. Nonetheless, there was general agreement that the board should have the power to approve grants above the cap as they see fit.

“No matter who applies, we want distribution of the funds to be quite discretionary among us, so that if there was a valid program that might need 20- or 25,000, we could consider it,” Doty said.

Doty said that while the board while be in charge of reviewing the grants, Community Development Director Haley Breen will be overseeing the applications.

Asked how the town’s cannabis grants would be different from its Local Enhancement and Advancement Fund grants, Doty said that LEAF’s total amount of capital to disburse is larger — up to $1,000,000 per year — because LEAF gets its revenue from occupancy taxes, which are much more lucrative than the taxes from cannabis sales. Occupancy taxes are collected on all hotel, motel, bed-and-breakfast and vacation rental stays in Essex County. Since its first funding round in 2021, LEAF has disbursed more than $3.9 million to dozens of projects. Doty said the other difference is that the occupancy tax law requires recipients to use the money for both community and tourism enhancement, whereas the cannabis tax grants will be free of that stipulation.

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