Council passes cannabis ordinance, hears tax information for new area businesses

By Sarah Richardson

The White Sulphur Springs City Council heard another positive progress report regarding the Harts Run Water Line Extension Project at their meeting on Monday, Feb. 10, approved several items for the police department, and passed the first reading of a Medical Cannabis Ordinance for the city.

Ed Robinson of E.L. Engineering spoke to the council on the water project and said it is “going fantastic,” with all of the work complete up to the DNR meter at the edge of the state park. “The contractors have done a great job,” he said. “The water has been tested, and there are no bugs. At this rate, depending on the weather, the line extension into the state park will probably be complete by mid-March.”

This project aims to connect White Sulphur Springs’ water up to and through the Greenbrier State Forest, including the new WV Great Barrel Company. Residents along the route will now have the option of connecting to city water, if they choose.

The council also held a first reading of a new Medical Cannabis Ordinance that will apply to any future cannabis-oriented businesses that may open inside the city. In 2017, the Medical Cannabis Act was passed by state legislature, which allows residents with “serious medical conditions” including cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Crohn’s Disease, PTSD, and more to use medical cannabis.

The new ordinance for WSS will allow businesses to sell cannabis under certain conditions: Any grower, processor, or dispensary shall only be located in a business zoned area in the city, no dispensary shall be located within 300 feet of another dispensary, they must comply with all business license and zoning requirements, they may not be located within 300 feet of a church or school, they may only be open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and they can’t be open on Sundays or legal holidays.

City Attorney Fred Giggenbach said that this act puts WSS “ahead of the game,” as one of the first municipalities in the state to pass such an ordinance. The first reading was approved by the council, and a second reading will be held at a later date, along with a public comment period.

The local police department saw some technological updates as Mayor Bruce Bowling said they had to “bite the bullet” and spring for new computers at the WSS Police Department.

Greenbrier Technologies and Electric installed seven new computers for a total of $20,662.46. The council also approved a standard operating guideline for the police department’s use of “conducted energy weapons,” more commonly known as TASERs. Chief Scotty Teubert said that the council had to first approve the TASER guidelines before the department could begin training, and that the TASERs won’t be issued until training is complete. The guidelines state that TASERs may be used if criminal subjects are threatening themselves, officers, or other people, and if others could be endangered by different uses of force.

Local accountant Larry Ickes approached the council with some exciting tax news pertaining to local Opportunity Zones. According to Fundrise.com, “Opportunity Zones are census tracts of low-income areas designated by state governors and certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. These areas are being targeted for economic development through the newly created Opportunity Zone program. Investors can invest in the development of qualified Opportunity Zones through Opportunity Funds, which can then give them significant federal capital gains tax advantages, both immediately and over the long term.”

On May 18, 2018, Governor Jim Justice certified 55 Opportunity Zones across West Virginia, including White Sulphur Springs and Ronceverte. Qualified Opportunity Zones retain the designation for 10 years, and help support newly registered businesses in that timeframe.

Ickes says that this is uncharted territory, but that any businesses that have opened in the zone after Jan. 1, 2019, don’t have to pay state income tax. On June 24, 2019, the West Virginia Legislature passed HB113, which details which businesses can apply for the tax break.

“The devil’s in the details, and it hasn’t been 100 percent figured out yet,” said Ickes, but he wanted to make sure the city was aware of this information, but specified that he was not giving tax advice, and advised business owners to see a tax lawyer to confirm.

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