Topsham Town Meeting OKs $10M budget, ordinance changes

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TOPSHAM — Town Meeting on Wednesday approved a $10.3 million fiscal 2018 budget by line item, along with several ordinance changes.

The nearly 80-minute meeting, held at the Mt. Ararat High School Commons, drew 175 registered voters – about 2.4 percent of the town’s total.

Municipal spending is up 10.8 percent, mostly due to a proposed $875,000 – or 113 percent – increase in Topsham’s capital program, bringing the total to $1.6 million.

Expenditures include design and construction of a replacement culvert to run parallel to Main Street in the Lower Village ($265,000), a trackless sidewalk plow ($140,000), and a 50-by-50-foot steel storage facility in the area of the Public Works Department ($180,000).

The capital spending increase is matched by a revenue hike in surplus, as well as a shifting of tax increment financing funds from a reserve account.

Topsham’s total tax commitment, including school and county assessments, could be $18.1 million – a 2.46 percent increase. That, divided by a town valuation estimated at $983.5 million but not final until August, creates a tax rate of $18.49 per $1,000 of property valuation – a 2.77 percent, or 50-cent, hike.

A home valued at about $199,000 in Topsham would next year be taxed nearly $3,680, an increase of $99.

Voters also enacted a six-month moratorium on retail marijuana establishments, stores and social clubs. The freeze, which the Board of Selectmen discussed last November, followed the narrow passage of a statewide referendum to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product.

The Board of Selectmen can extend the moratorium another six months, Town Manager Rich Roedner told the audience.

“Our goal is to make sure that the residents of Topsham … are protected from unregulated development of these facilities until we know what the state’s going to do,” he said, noting that the town could either follow the state’s set of rules or establish a town ordinance.

A proposed amendment to change the date of next year’s Town Meeting from Wednesday, May 16, 2018 to the following Saturday, in order to facilitate more resident participation, failed to pass. Selectman Bill Thompson said it is a topic his panel would be willing to discuss in the coming year.

Voters also approved all proposed ordinance amendments. Standards regarding off-street parking include a reduction in parking minimums in a lot, and vernal pool rules are being updated to create a Vernal Pool Overlay District to comply with a Maine Department of Environmental Protection management plan.

Approved changes in building height rules add a definition that creates more flexibility for structures, such as those with pitched roofs. Some maximum heights are being amended, and incentives for parking placed within a building were also proposed.

The sign ordinance was amended to apply to commercial use only, and remove all references to non-commercial content. The change reflects the Reed v. Town of Gilbert U.S. Supreme Court case, which Town Planner Rod Melanson stated in a March 29 memo “clarified when municipalities may impose content-based restrictions on signage. The case also clarified the level of constitutional scrutiny that should be applied to content-based restrictions on speech.”

A stormwater ordinance update adds standards reflecting better management practices of local stormwater rules, and better aligns Topsham with state standards.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Topsham Town Manager Rich Roedner, right, report to the annual Town Meeting Wednesday, May 17. To Roedner’s right are the Board of Selectmen and town attorney.

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.