Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Hemp Proposal Passed By Committee

4-1 vote okays plan for high-end hemp operation in Mitchell Park greenhouse. Next comes full board.

By - Oct 30th, 2019 02:55 pm
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The Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market is held in the greenhouse annex. Photo by Katie Hassemer.

The Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market is held in the greenhouse annex. Photo by Katie Hassemer.

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.

Jim Tarantino, director of recreation and business services for the parks department, testified before the committee on the current use of the greenhouses. And, despite some suggestions to the contrary, Tarantino said all Mitchell Park greenhouses are utilized by the county. He said some appear not to be in use at various times because they rotate plants and crops around the greenhouses during different stages of production. These plants and crops are used in the exhibits at the domes. Even if one greenhouse is used for hemp production, Tarantino said, “Forgoing that use for hemp production we would be forgoing some of the basic imagery and flowers that represent the show dome.”

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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Categories: MKE County, Politics

One thought on “MKE County: Hemp Proposal Passed By Committee”

  1. Kent Hadley says:

    $67,200 for a single acre of hemp seems to me all farmers should be switching to this green gold. I did a search and could not confirm this amount instead found this article from New Frontier Data an organization that states it supports legalizing cannabis by “printing unbiased vetted information.” Here is what they said:
    ” On average, hemp crops can yield about anywhere between 2.5 to 3 tons of hemp
    fiber per acre, which means after costs farmers can make upwards of $480 per acre
    in profit. Much of the fiber market depends on industrial processing capacity, and at
    present, there is little in the emerging US market.”
    So, we are to give up one of the state of the art greenhouses at the Domes to return to the county $480 per acre. We need leadership to save the Domes not nonsense.

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