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November 22, 2019

10/14/2019 1:52:00 PM
County rejects referendum on pot dispensaries
Crawford County voters will not get to weigh in on whether cannabis dispensaries should be allowed in unincorporated parts of the county.

The Crawford County Board Thursday voted 5-4 against putting an advisory referendum on the matter on the March primary ballot. Some board members wanted to give the public the opportunity to make clear their opinion on the issue, but others pointed out that, as elected representatives, it is their duty to decide on such things.

Recreational marijuana, sold through state-licensed dispensaries, becomes legal in Illinois Jan. 1. In September, the board unanimously approved an ordinance prohibiting licensed cannabis dispensaries in the unincorporated parts of the county.

While the ordinance will have no impact on what happens inside the municipal limits of Robinson or the county's villages, it means that no dispensaries can be created in places such as Annapolis, New Hebron or Bellair.

Still, board Chairman David Fulling and others were open to giving the public a formal way of making their own view on dispensaries known. Some - but not all - of the audience Thursday agreed.

Shawn Mitchell presented board members with results of an online petition signed by more than 600 supporters of permitting dispensaries here. Many in favor of local sales are unable to make the monthly board meeting, he explained, and a referendum would give them the chance to be heard. He added placing the question on the ballot might even encourage people who otherwise might not vote to participate.

Diane Bomer questioned if a referendum would really give a true picture of what rural Crawford County residents want. A referendum would be countywide, meaning people living in incorporated areas such as Robinson would have an equal vote with those living in unincorporated places. Because people living in the municipalities outnumber those outside them, their opinion would carry the day, regardless of what the rural residents wanted.

Board members who had talked to voters came back with different results. Koert Bartman said most people he spoke to wanted to vote, while most who talked with George Bonham were against a referendum. Kip Randolph pointed out adding it to the primary ballots would cost the county thousands of dollars.

In the end, it might not have even made a difference. The referendum would have only been "advisory, meaning the board could still vote against dispensaries no matter how the vote went.

"It would still have to come back to the board and could be voted down," Fulling explained.

Still, he, Bartman, Don Goupil and Kevin Dart voted for the referendum. Randolph, Bonham, Kevin Morrison, Clint Williamson and James Keeler voted "no." Jon Goff was absent.

Taxes were another prime topic Thursday. The board adopted the annual tax levies for the county and the Crawford County Forest Preserve and heard an update on this year's property taxes from County Treasurer Twyla Bailey.

The county will levy almost $4.7 million in taxes for 2020, up from more than $4.3 million this year. This includes more than $1.3 million in the county corporate fund.

The forest preserve levy is $50,000, compared to this year's extension of $50,399.

Meanwhile, about $400,000 of the $32.4 million in real estate taxes and about $8,000 of the $67,000 in mobile home taxes due this year remain unpaid, according to Bailey.

Last week, her office mailed 500 certified letters to those still in arrears. The delinquent tax list will appear in the Daily News Friday, Oct. 18, with Tuesday being the last day property owners can pay and avoid being on the list.

The final day for paying with a personal check is Oct. 22. The annual tax sale is 1:30 p.m. Nov. 8.

The second distribution of tax revenues took place at the end of September. Bailey said any taxing body that did not receive a check needs to contract her office.

In a related matter, board members approved returning to the tax rolls three properties previously sold for unpaid taxes. They included parcels in Robinson and Hutsonville and a mobile home in Flat Rock.

Sheriff William Rutan told the board about how a tragedy resulted in the donation of $8,000 to $10,000 in equipment to his department and Crawford County Rescue.

In September, Aaron Harper of New Mexico, committed suicide at a rental house in Crawford County. Besides handling the case, the sheriff's office, with the aid of three Crawford County Jail inmates, cleaned up the property and removed Harper's belonging on behalf of his mother, Margaret Parker.

In gratitude, Parker donated several of her son's items, including tools, fire extinguishers, electronic equipment that can be used for training, a small pickup truck and a small car. Rutan expressed appreciation for Parker's donation.

Rutan also pointed out that 17 of last month's traffic accidents handled by the sheriff's office were deer-related.

"It's that time of year," he said, urging people to pay attention while driving. "It's only going to get worse."

In other business, the board renewed employee health insurance through Hope Trust.

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