Topsham Town Meeting to tackle $8.3M budget, medical marijuana moratorium

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TOPSHAM — Voters at Town Meeting next week will decide on an $8.3 million municipal budget for fiscal 2011, as well as a medical marijuana moratorium, in a 27-item warrant.

Town Meeting will be held at Mt. Ararat High School at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 19.

Next year’s proposed budget is an increase from the current $7.8 million spending plan. All jobs and services remain in place, and union and non-union employees alike have agreed to postpone salary increases.

Town Manager Jim Ashe has cited the difficulty of building the fiscal 2011 budget in the wake of continued revenue reductions. The $800,000 estimated for state revenue sharing had dwindled to $664,000 as of last month, he said.

Estimated school and county budgets contribute to a projected increase in the property tax rate from the current $13.80 per $1,000 of valuation to $14.84, a rise of 7.5 percent.

Capital projects total $860,500, including expenditures like the first phase of drainage improvements for Bay Park and a new plow truck.

Town Planner Rich Roedner in March presented the Board of Selectmen with language for a 180-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries. That language noted that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services was in the process of drafting rules to implement the Maine Medical Marijuana Act. Meanwhile, the Legislature was considering amendments to the law – which voters approved last November – that would allow the development of medical marijuana dispensaries in all Maine communities.

Still, Roedner did not expect the work of DHHS and the Legislature to be complete in time for Topsham to adopt regulations that comply with state statutes and rules before the act goes into effect.

On May 5, though, the DHHS Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services announced it is accepting applications from non-profit corporations to open dispensaries under the medical marijuana act. Applications are being accepted until June 25.

Emergency rules governing the program went into effect last week, and the criteria have been established for how a dispensary will be chosen.

“We didn’t know how to do a local ordinance, because we didn’t know the rules the state was going to create,” Roedner said on Wednesday. “Now we know the rules that the state’s going to create, so we know how to proceed with our local ordinance. But that’s still going to take time, so the moratorium question is still a valid question.”

Voters will also decide on ordinance amendments concerning a proposed code of conduct and code changes involving Town Meeting. They will additionally vote whether to amend the Comprehensive Plan by adopting a natural areas plan for the town.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

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.