Freeport extends pot moratorium, weighs prohibition

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FREEPORT — The Town Council on Tuesday extended a moratorium on retail uses of recreational marijuana for another 180 days.

Councilors also held a late-evening workshop on implementing an ordinance that would permanently prevent all such uses.

The council also conducted a public hearing on the proposed fiscal year 2018 budget of $9.7 million, which, along with the proposed Regional School Unit 5 budget of $32.2 million, could add 60 cents to property taxes for a projected new tax rate of $16.40 per $1,000 of valuation.

The legalization of recreational marijuana was approved in a statewide referendum last November, with the caveat that each municipality could decide whether to allow retail uses. Included under that umbrella are social clubs and grow operations, among others.

Town Manager Peter Joseph said a majority of councilors are leaning toward preventing any retail use of recreational marijuana in any zone in town, aligning it with Cumberland, which recently passed the state’s first local ordinance banning such businesses.

Extending the moratorium, Joseph said prior to Tuesday’s meeting, would allow the council to continue to work on the proposed ordinance. He said he is unsure when the document might come before the governing body for a first reading.

Budget

In his budget message to the council in early May, Joseph said the tax increase breaks down to a 4-cent increase for the town and a 52-increase for the school, with another 4-cent increase for the county budget.

A final vote on the municipal budget is planned for the council’s June 20 meeting, he said, while voters in RSU 5 will go to the polls on Tuesday, June 13, to decide the fate of the three-town school spending package.

Only one resident spoke on the municipal budget this week: former Fire Chief Darrel Fournier, who asked the council to review the high cost of insurance rates.

“This is a significant issue and I hope the town will take the time to research rates and ensure we’re getting good value,” Fournier said. He also asked the council to “appropriately” staff the Fire Department.

In his budget message, Joseph called the municipal budget “a largely maintenance budget” even though it represents more than $256,000 in additional spending. Most of it, he said, is due to a 2 percent wage increase for staff, as well as additions to a variety of employee benefits.

Lighting, noise

Along with taking action on the marijuana moratorium, the council passed an ordinance that regulates lighting and noise at the new athletic fields planned for Freeport High School.

Under a $4.3 million bond approved by voters in mid-January, the high school will get a new track and playing fields, where night games will be played for the first time.

The new ordinance is designed to minimize the impact of the new athletic fields on the largely residential neighborhood surrounding the school, including aiming and shielding the lights to keep any illumination within property lines.

The new rules also state that athletic events will not use amplification for any reason after 10 p.m., unless allowed by a special permit approved by the code enforcement officer.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

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