Hemp Proposal Passed By Committee
4-1 vote okays plan for high-end hemp operation in Mitchell Park greenhouse. Next comes full board.
Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez’s proposal to search for an operator to help Milwaukee County grow hemp in the Mitchell Park greenhouses made it past committee Tuesday, but not without taking a few lumps.
As Urban Milwaukee has previously reported, Ortiz-Velez proposed in 2018 to have Milwaukee County look into the feasibility of growing hemp in the greenhouses in Mitchell Park so it may generate some much needed revenue.
The first time her proposal came before the committee, a report from the Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture concluded that cultivation of hemp would not be lucrative enough to justify the county pursuing it as a source of revenue.
At the time, Ortiz-Velez disagreed with the findings of the report. And a new report, which went before the committee Tuesday, found that significant revenue could be generated, disagreeing with much of the data presented in the earlier report. An example highlighting the discrepancy is the parks department estimating the average value of an acre of hemp at $437 and the new report valuing it at $67,200.
Chairman of the Committee on Parks Jason Haas has been critical of the idea since it was first proposed, often questioning whether it was an appropriate avenue for Milwaukee County to go down. At committee he used his gavel to pick apart Ortiz-Velez’s proposal, questioning not just the viability of the proposal but also whether it really fell under the mission of county government. Haas said he wanted to hear more about the proposal, including from the county’s risk management division and the comptroller.
Despite this, Ortiz-Velez’s proposal passed the committee. Three of the resolution’s co-sponsors for the legislation sit on the five seat committee: Supervisors Marcelia Nicholson, Steven Shea and Felesia Martin. Sup. Sheldon Wasserman also voted for approval at committee. The next step is a vote by the full board on whether or not to issue a request for proposal from potential operators of a hemp clone production facility for one of the Mitchell Park greenhouses.
Supporters placed Ortiz-Velez’s proposal in the context of the county’s current revenue crisis, with Sup. Nicholson saying the board should “be more willing to involve ourselves in more creative solutions.”
This crisis is painfully acute in the County Parks system. Independent analysis by the Wisconsin Policy Forum shows the county cannot possibly deal with the current backlog of capital projects in the parks system unless revenues increase. The group suggested a number of options for the county. Most salient for elected leaders was the possibility of an increase in the sales tax. A coalition is lobbying the state to allow Milwaukee County to hold a referendum asking the public if they would support a sales tax increase.
Meanwhile, Nicholson suggested, the hemp proposal may help address the revenue shortfall for the domes. “This seems somewhat like a catch 22,” she said. “We have greenhouses growing show flowers, but if we don’t figure out a sustained revenue source for our domes, there’s a real chance we won’t have any greenhouses to grow any show flowers.”
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