By Mary Thurwachter
Lantana has prohibited medical marijuana dispensaries since December 2017. But the issue resurfaced this summer when a local businessman asked the Town Council to reconsider and enact an ordinance allowing the pharmacies.
Reconsider, it did, but the town confirmed its original stance on the subject, again saying “no” to medical marijuana dispensaries.
Making the pitch to allow dispensaries was Dave Arm, owner of Lantana Fitness at 700 W. Lantana Road. He said the issue was about attracting 21st century vendors in a town that desperately needs good retailers.
“It’s obvious conditions are tough for brick-and-mortar properties,” Arm said. “We can see that at Water Tower Commons.”
Arm argued that medical marijuana treatment centers are well-capitalized by major national corporations, are attractive and provide good jobs in the community.
Arm is president of the Lantana Chamber of Commerce, but was not speaking in that capacity.
“We talked to people in Boynton and Lake Worth Beach and they’ve had no issues with crime,” Arm said of two places that allow the dispensaries. “Why should we have to drive to another town to have our prescriptions filled?”
On the other hand, the topic struck a sour note with residents, with dozens of them showing up to express their views during the discussion at the June 28 council meeting, and again when the subject resurfaced at the July 26 meeting.
In addition, Mayor Robert Hagerty said he received about 20 emails from residents who opposed the change.
When the final vote was taken, three council members (Mark Zeitler, Malcolm Balfour and Hagerty) voted against medical marijuana dispensaries. Hagerty said he was following the will of the people, who through their comments, both in person and via email, opposed the measure.
Voting in favor of the dispensaries was Karen Lythgoe, who said they offered an opportunity to fill some vacant storefronts with “good, attractive businesses.”
Lynn Moorhouse, who attended the meeting via phone, got disconnected before the vote was taken.
Residents said ample dispensaries were nearby and Lantana didn’t need its own.
Digging into reserves
The town will not raise its tax rate, continuing with $3.50 per $1,000 of taxable value. However, deficits approaching $5 million in both the general and utility funds will require the town to dig deep into its reserves to balance the budget.
Why such large shortfalls?
“The current draft consists of significant one-time capital improvement projects,” Finance Director Stephen Kaplan said. “Within the utility fund, we have projects pertaining to drainage, water main replacements and water treatment plant improvements accounting for over $3.5 million.
“In the general fund, police communication center equipment upgrades is included at an estimated cost of more than $320,000.” Other expenses include library renovations and furniture, money to fix Sea Pines flooding issues and adding a new officer to the police department.
The town had hoped to add an assistant town manager, but scrapped those plans to save money.
Public budget meetings are set for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 13 and 5:30 p.m. Sept. 23 in the council chambers, 500 Greynolds Circle.
In other action, the town:
• Approved a salary of $140,000 for interim Town Manager Nicole Dritz. Previously the director of development services, Dritz is also an applicant for the full-time position vacated by Deborah Manzo.
• Authorized use of the grounds of the Recreation Center, 418 S. Dixie Highway, for a “Summer Twilight Market,” 5-10 p.m. Fridays from July 9 to Sept. 3. Restrooms are available inside the center. The market may return to Bicentennial Park next fall.
• Learned that the library would move to the Recreation Center in early August as the library renovation begins.