TOPSHAM — Town Meeting on Wednesday ratified a $12.7 million municipal budget along with a set of rules governing marijuana businesses.

The 202 registered voters – about 2.5% of the town’s approximately 7,800 – also approved an update to the 2005 Comprehensive Plan during the nearly 3 1/2-hour meeting at the Mt. Ararat High School Commons.

The spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 – which does not include school and county assessments – is up 6.35% (about $759,000) from the fiscal year 2019 budget.

With assessments included from School Administrative District 75 and Sagadahoc County, Topsham’s tax rate could rise from $18.73 per $1,000 of property valuation to $20.31, although that amount is likely to change. Of the $1.58 increase, 84 cents would come from the town, 7 cents from the county, and 67 cents from SAD 75, according to Town Manager Rich Roedner.

The tax rate increase, unlikely to be known until this summer, could be reduced once the town assessor has completed new and adjusted valuations. Additional revenue sharing from the state could also reduce the hike, Roedner said.

Although all 30 warrant articles passed, the $1.3 million capital projects fund line item faced two amendments, both of which failed.

The first proposed change, called for by Finance Committee Co-Chairman Peter Richard, was to remove a $100,000 facility system replacement line item, an expense a majority of the Finance Committee had not recommended.

The line item would have set funds in reserve in case of unexpected issues at any of the town’s five facilities, and have money available to “replace significant items when they need to be replaced,” such as the furnace at the library this past year, Roedner said. That avoids having to call a special town meeting if extra money is needed.

“Most of the reasons that we feel have been cited for the need for this fund … should be scheduled out in a capital plan,” Richard said. “We think that they are anticipatory.”

“We feel that there’s not enough clarity or oversight of this fund to justify it at this time,” he added.

A $65,000 recreation facility improvements line item was also proposed to be removed, but that amendment failed as well. The money will go toward improving access to the Thomas Avenue fields, Selectboard Chairman David Douglass said – either by building a parking lot or by improving a path from a Foreside Road parking area, through a forest to the fields.

Disagreement among some audience members over which course the town should take led to the proposal that the line item be removed.

The budget includes a 82% ($73,000) increase in the finance manager line item for a new full-time employee that will help the finance director with daily money management tasks.

There is also a 17.8% (almost $73,000) hike in the Parks and Recreation Department that will fund insurance rate increases and raise a half-time maintenance position to full time.

The fire/rescue service line item is rising 18% (nearly $180,000), due partly to two new positions: a full-time firefighter to lessen reliance on per diem staff for shift coverage and a second medic added to third shift. The additions are geared toward the department having round-the-clock coverage with at least one medic at all times.

With contract negotiations with the town’s collective bargaining units ongoing, leaving the impacts unknown, the payroll line is flat. Roedner has set aside $180,000 in the insurance line item to cover anticipated pay increases.

Public works is up 7.3% (about $90,000), due mostly to adding a full-time staff member who will perform all department functions, and when time avails fix building issues that regularly arise, such as stuck doors and other minor repairs.

Marijuana rules, comp plan

Voters also approved ordinance amendments regarding the town’s regulation of registered caregiver (medical marijuana) retail stores; the establishment of marijuana cultivation, product manufacturing and testing facilities, and registered caregivers themselves.

The land use code is being amended to stipulate where registered caregiver retail stores would be allowed in town, followed by marijuana businesses, cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities.

The Board of Selectmen will issue a maximum of two licenses for registered caregiver retail stores.

A maximum of two licenses will be available for each of four tiers of marijuana cultivation facilities, which would range in plant canopy size from less than 500 square feet to more than 20,000. Up to four licenses will be issued for nurseries with canopies no larger than 1,000 square feet, and a cap of six each would be allowed for facilities that manufacture marijuana products and marijuana testing facilities.

A marijuana business will not be allowed within 1,000 feet of a school or another marijuana business. A caregiver retail store will have to operate at least 200 feet from a residence.

Registered caregiver retail stores – as well as marijuana cultivation, product manufacturing, and product testing facilities – will all be permitted in the Commercial Corridor, Commercial Corridor 196, and Mixed Use Commercial zones. All but caregiver stores would be allowed in the Business Park zone.

All four operations will also be allowed in the Rural Commercial Use zone, although caregiver retail stores would be authorized only in the Route 196 RCU corridor, and not the Route 201 (Main Street) section of RCU.

Wednesday’s meeting was the final hurdle in completing an update to Topsham’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan. Last revised in 2011, the document was updated in 2016 upon the formation of an ad hoc Comprehensive Plan Committee. The full plan can be found under the Topsham Comprehensive Plan Information tab at topshammaine.com.

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Topsham Town Meeting drew 202 registered voters Wednesday, about 2.5% of the town’s total of approximately 7,800.

Peter Richard, co-chairman of Topsham’s Finance Committee, second from left, explains his panel’s opposition to a $100,000 facility replacement line item, which the Board of Selectmen had recommended.

Topsham held its Town Meeting Wednesday at the Mt. Ararat High School Commons.

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