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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday unanimously voted to ban retail marijuana sales and also passed a $9.8 million fiscal year 2018 municipal budget.
The council last month sent ordinance language for the proposed pot prohibition to the Planning Board, which on May 16 split 3-3 in its recommendation back to the council, Town Manager Bill Shane reported Monday. The council on May 8 extended Cumberland’s moratorium on retail marijuana sales another six months.
“I think some of the concern that (the Planning Board) had was that the state was not ready to implement their new rules and regulations, and wouldn’t it be wise to just wait through the moratorium,” Shane told the council.
The town’s moratorium followed the narrow passage last November of a statewide referendum to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product.
The question failed by 2 percent in Cumberland, 2,788 to 2,679.
“We’re not regulating the personal use of marijuana; that is not something we are allowed to do as a municipality,” Shane said. “The only piece we can regulate is the retail sales.”
Medical marijuana dispensaries are already allowed in Cumberland’s Office Commercial North zone on U.S. Route 1, although there are none there.
Chris Neagle, a former Planning Board member and the only member of the public to speak on the matter Monday, asked, “Why are we opposing marijuana, other than the fact that it is marijuana, especially when we openly encourage alcohol sales? Two very different recreational drugs, one far more dangerous than the other.”
Banning sales in Cumberland would send residents to another town to buy marijuana, Neagle argued, adding, “When they go to that other town, they’ll take their economic activity with them. So much for you calling yourselves business friendly. Here we have a non-dangerous, perfectly lawful drug that we don’t want, apparently, and no one can give me a reason.”
“I’ll give you a couple,” Council Chairman George Turner replied, noting that today’s marijuana packs greater potency than 50 years ago. While retail sales could be lucrative for Cumberland, he added, “it also could be very difficult to administer.”
“There are a lot of reasons why people might decide that the retail use of marijuana in Cumberland isn’t appropriate, who don’t have any prejudices against marijuana per se,” Turner added.
Councilor Bill Stiles said his biggest issue with any kind of smoking, whether it is marijuana or tobacco, is that “the instant you light up you affect the people around you, whether they want to be affected or not. Alcohol will only get to that value if you drink too much and act disapprovingly.”
“I have no problem with somebody going to a different town to buy marijuana; I think it’s a good thing,” Councilor Ron Copp said. “You can’t buy a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in Cumberland; you can’t buy a Big Mac in Cumberland. So I don’t think it’s a big deal if you can’t buy marijuana in Cumberland.”
The five members present at Monday’s meeting – Councilors Peter Bingham and Mike Edes were absent – also unanimously approved a $9.8 million municipal budget for next year. The spending plan reflects an increase of just less than $41,000, or 0.42 percent.
Adding assessments from Cumberland County and School Administrative District 51, Cumberland’s total tax revenues could rise 3.8 percent to $25.1 million – increasing the current tax rate of $18.25 per $1,000 of property valuation by 70 cents.
The 3.8 percent growth would add $245 to the tax bill for a home valued at $350,000, bringing total taxes for the year to more than $6,600.
Of the 70-cent tax rate increase, 64 cents goes toward SAD 51, and 3 cents each toward town and county costs, Town Manager Bill Shane said Monday.
Without an increase of approximately $34 million in value generating about $651,000 in new revenue to offset the tax hike, the tax rate would have increased $1.17, as opposed to 70 cents, Shane has said.
Final tax numbers will not be known until the town sets its tax commitment in July.
Resident Brad Hilton, the only member of the public in the audience at the time of the budget vote, spoke in favor of the town’s budget, but had concerns about the impact SAD 51 will have on Cumberland’s overall tax rate.
He repeated the statement he made at the May 18 SAD 51 district budget meeting – at which Cumberland and North Yarmouth voters approved next year’s school spending plan – that SAD 51 is spending more per student than its neighboring peer districts, resulting in an inefficiency which causes it to be penalized when the state allots subsidy.
SAD 51 faces a potential state subsidy loss of nearly $896,000, but having heard indications from Augusta that more money could be allocated toward education, the district has factored in a loss of about $464,000 – half the potential deduction.
In the wake of the subsidy cut, Cumberland pared its town budget significantly from its February draft, which projected a 4.8 percent increase, resulting in an $11 million spending plan.
“The Finance Committee … directed myself and the finance director to come up with a strategy for the next five years to minimize the impact on the town side to get it to as close to zero as we can,” Shane said earlier this month.
As a result, some major capital projects funded through tax increment financing – such as water line connections and extensions, as well as the relocation of the town garage – will be delayed, saving the town a potential $600,000 a year, according to Shane.