DURHAM — Durham voters said yes to a town manager and no to marijuana at the polls on Tuesday, voting to move toward a town manager style of government and rejecting any medical or recreational marijuana businesses in town. 

Voters approved the town manager warrant with 1,479 (57%) in favor to 1,085 against, and approved a second article allocating $8,000 to launch a search process with the Maine Municipal Association.

The need for a new style of government comes during a period of growth for Durham. 

“Managing a municipality, even for a mid-sized town like Durham is becoming more and more complex and it’s something that’s becoming less and less realistic for a part-time elected official to properly oversee those functions to the degree that we would all like to see them supervised,” Kevin Nadeau, select board chair told residents during a public hearing last month. 

In 2014, the town had four town employees. Six years later, that has more than doubled to 10, largely thanks to the creation of a public works department. 

The organization of town staff has not changed in response to that growth, Nadeau said, and the town has “outgrown” the town administrator style of government. 

Durham’s town administrator, currently the closest thing to a town manager, oversees the town office staff and the administrative budget. A town manager, on the other hand, has executive responsibility and accountability for all employees and operations, meaning that department heads currently only report to the select board. The town manager position would replace the town administrator and cost taxpayers roughly $35,000 extra per year. 

The current town administrator, who works four days per week, has an annual salary of $48,214. The town manager position is expected to pay $80,000 for five days per week. As the town will not be adding a position, just replacing one, the difference in the cost of benefits is negligible, Nadeau said. 

Officials hope to have someone in place to start after the April 2021 annual town meeting. 

Marijuana 

Voters rejected a series of warrant articles concerning the operation of retail recreational marijuana establishments, cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, medical marijuana caregiver stores, medical marijuana dispensaries, medical marijuana manufacturing facilities and medical marijuana testing facilities. The final article asked voters to allocate $5,000 from the undesignated fund balance for professional services to help marijuana ordinance development. 

The contest was close, with roughly 52% of voters against the articles and 48% in favor. 

The closest competitions were for adult use cultivation with 1,355 in favor and 1,406 against, and medical manufacturing, with 1,330 in support and 1,419 against.  

According to Kevin Nadeau, select board chair, the warrant articles weren’t an endorsement from the town, but rather an opportunity for Durham to decide whether to “opt in” after the state legalized marijuana in 2016. 

Many worried that marijuana might be too much for the town to handle. 

Faced with only a minimal increase in revenue (from higher property values and licensing fees), no zoning districts, a “maxed out” code enforcement officer and no police department, “Durham is not in a position to really devote the resources it would take to have this be a successful type of enterprise,” Nadeau said at a public hearing. Some pointed out that in surrounding areas like Brunswick, which has both a police department and a designated industrial zone, it might not be a problem, and argued those locations likely already meet any local demand.

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