Election 2016: Freeport to vote on bag ban, school budget, petition rules

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FREEPORT — Residents on June 14 will be voting on a plastic bag ban, the $31 million school budget, and a Town Charter amendment.

The Town Council on May 17 approved putting a referendum on the ballot that would ban some plastic shopping bags and enact a 5-cent fee on paper bags. The decision came after a petition was submitted by residents that demands tighter limits on the single-use, carryout bags than those proposed by councilors.

The ban would apply only to businesses that sell food or groceries: supermarkets and grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores, etc. It would not apply to restaurants, clothing stores, or any business where food sales are incidental and less than 2 percent of gross sales.

Money collected from the paper bag fee would be retained by the businesses. Violators of the ordinance, which would take effect Sept. 12, will be subject to fines of up to $250 for a first offense in a year, and up to $500 per day for subsequent offenses during the same year.

The council’s ordinance committee originally wrote a proposal with language calling for fees on plastic and paper bags, which was expected to go to a nonbinding referendum in June. Councilors on May 3 decided not to move forward with the ordinance committee’s recommendation.

In January there was discussion about both proposals being on the June 14 ballot, but councilors decided against that move earlier this month.

School budget

Residents on June 14 will also vote on the proposed fiscal year 2017 school budget of $31 million.

The budget was adopted by the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors on May 25. It has an increase of $1.51 million, or 5.15 percent, from the current year.

Residents will also be asked whether they want to continue voting on the budget at referendum for another three years.

The school budget would increase Freeport’s tax rate 0.25 percent, or 4 cents per $1,000 of valuation. It would increase Pownal’s by 3.51 percent, or $1.25 per $1,000 of valuation and Durham’s by 1.25 percent, or 22 cents per $1,000 of valuation.

The biggest driver of the proposed budget is the renovations being done at Freeport High School, which adds just less than $1 million to the budget. A $14.6 million bond to renovate the high school was approved by voters in November 2013.

The budget proposes increasing support in the areas of nursing, guidance, social work and the library. Also, proposed is bringing back a kindergarten jump start program for students who need accelerated instruction, as well as increased funding for “gifted and talented” students.

Also in the proposed budget is an additional half day of professional learning for teachers. The budget also proposes increased funds for bus maintenance and maintenance in general.

Charter amendment

Voters will also decide whether to amend the Town Charter so residents would no longer have to come to Town Hall to sign petitions.

If approved by voters, petitions could be circulated around town. Under the existing rules, petitions have to be signed at Town Hall in the presence of the town clerk.

The Town Council unanimously approved the charter amendment in January, but it must also be approved in a referendum.

The amendments were approved for three sections of the Town Charter that involve petitions: enactment of ordinance by initiative, overrule of council action, and recalls.

In addition to sending the amendment to voters, councilors also decided it wouldn’t be practical to print the entire charter amendment on the ballot because it is 3 1/2 pages long. Instead, a summary will be printed along with the question.

Councilor Kristina Egan in January noted that while the amendment will make it easier to get petition signatures, it also brings Freeport in line with state law.

Voting will take place June 14 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Freeport High School gymnasium.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.