Freeport moves toward plastic bag ban, paper bag fee

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FREEPORT — Unless town councilors act sooner, voters next month may decide if the town will ban the use of plastic shopping bags and enact a five-cent fee on paper bags.

The Town Council on Tuesday decided to move forward with a citizen petition that demands tighter limits on distribution of single-use bags than those previously proposed by councilors.

Councilors on Tuesday also discussed the proposed municipal, school, and county budgets.

According to John Egan, a leader of the group behind the petition, 664 signatures were verified by the town clerk. Egan said a group of more than 30 volunteers circulated the petition and received 860 signatures. He said the group stopped sending them to the Town Clerk once the threshold was met.

To be approved, 10 percent of the town’s registered voters, or 650 people, had to sign the petition. Councilors are scheduled to certify the petition May 9 and hold a public hearing May 17.

The council’s ordinance committee had been discussing a plastic bag fee or ban since July 2014, when two high school students asked councilors to look into the issue and write an ordinance. The committee drafted language calling for fees on plastic and paper bags, which was expected to go to a non-binding referendum in June.

But councilors on Tuesday decided not to move forward with the ordinance committee’s recommendation. Instead, councilors on May 17 will be able to move the petition forward to a binding referendum, or forgo that process and approve the fee and ban. 

Some councilors Tuesday said they think the proposed ordinance should go to referendum.

“Public input is truly important and I think it should go to voters,” Chairwoman Melanie Sachs said.

In January there was talk of both proposals being on the June 14 ballot. Councilors on Tuesday said they don’t think that’s a good idea.

“It would be confusing for voters to have two different questions on the ballot dealing with the same issue,” Councilor Sarah Tracy, chairwoman of the ordinance committee, said.

2017 budget

The proposed fiscal year 2017 municipal budget of $9.46 million has an increase of 1.17 percent from the current year.

Town Manager Peter Joseph and Finance Director Jessica Maloy on Tuesday presented the municipal budget, which has an increase of just over $109,000, to the Town Council. They also presented the overall budget, which includes the school and county budgets.

The overall budget proposal for next year is more than $27 million, which is an increase of more than $219,900, or 0.82 percent, from fiscal year 2016. The tax rate is expected to increase by 0.94 percent, or 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, to $16.95 from the current $16.80.

The tax contribution from the municipal budget is an increase of 2 percent, or seven cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The proposed Regional School Unit 5 budget of $16.6 million is an increase of $61,600, or 0.37 percent, from the current year.

The Cumberland County portion of the overall budget is more than $991,000, which is an increase of more than $49,000, or 5.23 percent.

The council in April approved a five-year capital plan with a fiscal year 2017 budget of $1.59 million.

A public hearing on the total budget will be held May 17.

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

Freeport Town Hall

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.