Freeport voters ditch plastic grocery bags

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FREEPORT — Voters on Tuesday banned plastic grocery bags and implemented a 5-cent fee on paper bags.

The Regional School Unit 5 budget of $31 million was also approved, but a charter amendment that would have eased the rules on gathering petition signatures failed because not enough votes were cast.

The bag ban and fee were approved 804-501. The town will join Portland, South Portland, Falmouth, York and, as of Tuesday, Kennebunk in regulating single-use bags.

The Freeport ban applies only to businesses that sell food or groceries: supermarkets and grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores, etc. It doesn’t 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 Town Council on May 17 approved putting the bag referendum on the ballot. 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.

RSU 5 budget

The school budget was approved 1,006-262 by Freeport voters, 198-115 in Durham, and 107-78 in Pownal. The total vote was 1,311-455.

Continuing the budget referendum process was also approved by all three RSU 5 towns, with Freeport voting 885-354, Durham voting 234-72, and Pownal voting 139-44.

The fiscal year 2017 budget has an increase of $1.51 million, or 5.15 percent, from the current year.

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

Charter amendment

Residents voted 1,091-168 in favor of the amendment, but not enough total votes were cast. Town Clerk Christine Wolfe said 1,413 votes had to be cast for the amendment to take effect.

According to Wolfe, only 1,314 people voted, or about 20 percent of the town’s registered voters.

“The law states that no charter amendment may become effective unless the total votes cast for and against the question equal or exceed 30 percent of the total votes cast for the office of governor in the municipality at the most recent gubernatorial election,” Wolfe said.

The amendment would have allowed citizen petitions to be circulated, instead of requiring residents to go to Town Hall to sign in the presence of the town clerk.

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.