Man smoking marijuana cigarette in coffee shop in Amsterdam, Netherlands

By Tim Rockey

The Mat-Su Borough will meets twice on Feb. 2 and consider a variety of impactful measures at their regular meeting including the introduction of regulations for on-site consumption at marijuana retail facilities in the Mat-Su Borough.

The strong mayor ordinance introduced by Assemblyman Jesse Sumner and the first class borough ordinance introduced by Mayor Vern Halter will both be up for public hearing at the regular Assembly meeting at 6 p.m. At 3 p.m., the Assembly will hold a special meeting to hold a discussion on Port Mackenzie.

“It’s a little bit more difficult to get rid of a terrible mayor,” said Sumner last April. “In the long run you get good results by allowing the people to choose who they want to represent and lead them.”

Sumner’s Ordinance 20-046 would “repeal the manager form of government” and was introduced in April of last year. At the time, former Borough Manager John Moosey had announced that he was leaving for a job as the Manager of the city of Palmer and the Borough had contacted a search firm to gather candidates for the position of Manager while George Hays was promoted from Deputy Borough Manager to Acting Borough Manager. The Assembly discussed whether passing an ordinance to repeal the manager form of government would affect their search for a new manager, and voted to postpone the public hearing until June.

“The time to do it is when the Mayor is up. I think that makes sense so I appreciate it, support having a discussion on this just the timing is off for me right now and I’d rather focus on what’s right in front of us right now and try to get our borough on a good track than get into this discussion,” said Assemblywoman Stephanie Nowers.

New Borough Manager Mike Brown started in December after the Assembly interview and selection process included a number of candidates with Alaskan experience. In July, Sumner moved to postpone the discussion on the issue until 2021. Mayor Vern Halter’s Ordinance 20-061 would seek to reclassify the Mat-Su Borough from a second class to a first class borough, and pointed to the growing population as justification.

“When I look at this first class, it’s about strategy. How can the borough operate with a hundred and thirty, forty thousand population which it’s going to be 10 years from now. That’s what this is all about. When I look at strong mayor versus a good manager, I have a different look at that injecting politics into management,” said Halter. “Whether or not it’s good in the long run to switch the confidence of a really good professional manager versus a politician, and I don’t even know what the qualifications would be. If you ran for mayor you really could run for mayor without any qualifications at all.”

Brown is set to present the property appraisal report at the regular Assembly meeting, detailing the assessment of property taxes in the borough that began on Jan 1. All taxable property will be assesses for the current tax year and notifications of assessment values were mailed on Jan. 28. The 30-day appeal period will end on Feb. 26 and appeal hearings will begin in April, with the assessment roll set to be certified on June 1. In 2020, property tax increased 6.97 percent in residential properties, 1.03 percent in commercial properties and 1.34 percent in multi-family properties.

At the request of Sumner, Ordinance 21-017 will be introduced on Tuesday, which would amend MSB 17.60 to change the applicability and standards for marijuana cultivation facilities and address on site consumption of marijuana.

“The intent of this ordinance is to establish standard hours of operation for marijuana retail facilities, address potential land use impacts associated with onsite consumption of marijuana, streamline the permitting process for new cultivation facilities, and to regulate cultivation facilities that are less than 500 square feet,” reads the Informational Memorandum.

In December of 2018, the Alaska Marijuana Control Board adopted rules which allow for and regulate the on-site consumption of marijuana within licensed retail facilities. Applicants would be required to obtain a modification to their Conditional Use Permit to allow on-site consumption of marijuana. The ordinance calls for the addition of one full-time Planner 1 position. Since February of 2016 when marijuana cultivation facilities were legalized in Alaska, 77 limited cultivation facilities have been licensed by the State of Alaska. With borough permitting staff stretched thin, assistance from the Planning Department staff has been required for review of Alcohol and marijuana business reviews. The IM states that no requests have been submitted to the borough for on-site consumption Conditional Use Permits. The ordinance calls for a 100 foot setback between the outdoor on-site consumption areas and property lines and right-of-ways “To ensure neighbors and passersby to not consume secondhand smoke.”

The amendments to the administrative permitting process for cultivation facilities would eliminate subjective standards as to whether or not the use will “preserve or detract from the value, character, and integrity of the surrounding area.”

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