Topsham budget, marijuana decisions head to Town Meeting

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TOPSHAM — A 30-article warrant is set for Town Meeting in mid-May after being adopted April 11 by the Board of Selectmen.

Five of those articles concern the regulation of marijuana businesses and locations in town that sales and production would be allowed. Another six represent components of Topsham’s proposed $12.7 million municipal budget.

Residents will also be voting on an update to the 2005 Comprehensive Plan.

Town Meeting will be held Wednesday, May 15, in the Mt. Ararat High School Commons starting at 7 p.m. 

Articles 18, 19 and 20 are ordinance amendments that respectively regard the town’s regulation of registered caregiver (medical marijuana) retail stores; the establishment of marijuana cultivation, product manufacturing and testing facilities; and registered caregivers themselves.

Articles 21 and 22 would amend the land use code to stipulate where first registered caregiver retail stores, and then marijuana businesses, cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities, would be allowed in town.

The Board of Selectmen would issue a maximum of two licenses for registered caregiver retail stores.

Two maximum licenses would be available for each of four tiers of marijuana cultivation facilities, ranging in plant canopy size from less than 500 square feet to more than 20,000. Up to four licenses would be issued for nurseries with canopies no larger than 1,000 square feet, and a cap of six each would be allowed for marijuana products manufacturing facilities and marijuana testing facilities.

A marijuana business would be prohibited within 1,000 feet of a school or another marijuana business. A caregiver retail store would have to be at least 200 feet from a residence.

Registered caregiver retail stores, and marijuana cultivation, product manufacturing, and product testing facilities would all be permitted in the Commercial Corridor, Commercial Corridor 196, and Mixed Use Commercial zones. All but caregiver stores would be allowed in the Business Park zone.

All four operations would also be allowed in the Rural Commercial Use zone, although caregiver retail stores would be authorized only in the Route 196 RCU corridor, and not the Route 201 (Main Street) section of RCU.

Budget, comp plan

Articles 2-7 comprise budget line items. Next year’s proposed $12.7 million spending plan is up 6.35% (about $759,000) from this year’s budget.

The fire/rescue service line item is up 18% (nearly $180,000), due in part to two new positions: a full-time firefighter to lessen reliance on per diem people for shift coverage and a second medic added to the third shift. The additions are geared toward the department having round-the-clock coverage with at least one medic all the time.

An 82% ($73,000) hike in the finance manager line item is due to adding a new full-time employee that will help the finance director with daily money management tasks.

Since contract negotiations with the town’s collective bargaining units continue, leaving the impacts unknown, the payroll line is flat. Town Manager Rich Roedner has set aside $180,000 in the insurance line item to cover payroll increases.

Public Works could rise 7.3% (about $90,000), due largely to adding a staff member assigned to fixing building issues that regularly arise, like stuck doors and other minor repairs.

Solid waste costs are up almost 13%, nearly $51,000, thanks primarily to new solid waste and recycling contracts that are impacted by changes worldwide in the market.

The town proposes a 17.8% (almost $73,000), hike in the Parks and Recreation Department, which would fund insurance rate hikes and raise a half-time maintenance position to full time.

A nearly 10% (about $64,000) rise in the Topsham Free Library budget would in part raise a part-time position to full time, including benefits. Additional hours are also budgeted for several other positions.

May 15 also marks the final hurdle in completing an update to Topsham’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan. Last revised in 2011, the document underwent an update in 2016 upon the formation of an ad hoc Comprehensive Plan Committee. The full document can be found under the Topsham Comprehensive Plan Information tab at topshammaine.com.

Community engagement was a key aspect in that process, which included a five-day public charrette dubbed “Find, Meet, Plan Your Topsham,” and an ice cream social.

A letter from the committee within the 159-page plan notes the vast input received from residents. 

“We heard from many that affordable housing, whether rentals or for purchase, is becoming increasingly rare in Topsham,” the letter cites as one example. “If we want people to stay here and if we want to attract new residents we must explore the feasibility of diversifying our housing stock. This may mean modifying minimum and/or maximum lot sizes or square footage of houses.”

The committee also “heard about the need to be supportive of the knowledge economy, encouraging the creation of small and home-based businesses,” the letter notes. “There is also a need to ensure that fast broadband internet is available across the Town. This will be critical if we hope to retain and attract younger people to our town.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.