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- The Forecaster
TOPSHAM — Voters will approve a fiscal year 2020 municipal budget and a set of rules governing local marijuana businesses at Town Meeting on Wednesday, May 15.
Residents will also vote on an update to the 2005 Comprehensive Plan at the Mt. Ararat High School Commons meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.
Articles 2-7, out of a total 30, are budget line items. The proposed $12.7 million spending plan for the year starting July 1 – which does not include school and county assessments – is up 6.35% (about $759,000) from the fiscal year 2019 budget.
With assessments from School Administrative District 75 and Sagadahoc County included, Topsham’s tax rate could rise from $18.73 per $1,000 of property valuation to $20.31. Of the $1.58 increase, 84 cents would come from the town, 7 cents from the county, and 67 cents from SAD 75, according to Town Manager Rich Roedner.
The tax rate increase could be lower once the town assessor has completed new and adjusted valuations, he said Tuesday. Additional revenue sharing from the state could also reduce the hike, he added.
The fire/rescue service line item could rise 18% (nearly $180,000), due in part to two new positions: a full-time firefighter to lessen reliance on per diem staff for shift coverage and a second medic added to third shift. The additions are geared toward the department having round-the-clock coverage with at least one medic at all times.
An 82% ($73,000) hike in the finance manager line item stems from adding a new full-time employee that will help the finance director with daily money management tasks.
As contract negotiations with the town’s collective bargaining units continue, which leaves the impacts unknown, the payroll line is flat. Roedner has set aside $180,000 in the insurance line item to cover anticipated pay increases.
Public works could increase 7.3% (about $90,000), due mostly to adding a staff member assigned to fixing building issues that regularly arise, such as stuck doors and other minor repairs.
Solid waste costs are up almost 13%, nearly $51,000, due primarily to new solid waste and recycling contracts that are impacted by worldwide changes in the market.
The town calls for 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) hike 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.
Warrant articles 18, 19 and 20 are ordinance amendments that respectively regard Topsham’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 registered caregiver retail stores would be allowed in town, followed by marijuana businesses, cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities.
The Board of Selectmen would issue a maximum of two licenses for registered caregiver retail stores.
A maximum of two licenses would be available for each of four tiers of marijuana cultivation facilities, which would range 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 facilities that manufacture marijuana products 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 operate at least 200 feet from a residence.
Registered caregiver retail stores – as well as 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.
Next week’s meeting is the final hurdle in completing an update to Topsham’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan. Last revised in 2011, the document was updated in 2016 upon the formation of an ad hoc Comprehensive Plan Committee. The full plan can be found under the Topsham Comprehensive Plan Information tab at topshammaine.com.
Community engagement was a major aspect in that process, which included a five-day public charrette dubbed “Find, Meet, Plan Your Topsham,” and an ice cream social.
The rarity of affordable housing in town is one concern the committee heard around the community, it stated in a letter within the 159-page plan.
“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,” the panel noted. “This may mean modifying minimum and/or maximum lot sizes or square footage of houses.”
Input also delved into “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.”