Topsham voters to tackle $10M budget, ordinance changes at Town Meeting

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TOPSHAM — Residents at Town Meeting next week will vote on a $10.3 million fiscal 2018 budget by line item, as well as weigh several ordinance changes.

The gathering will be held at the Mt. Ararat High School Commons, 73 Eagles Way, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 17.

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

Town Meeting warrant articles 2-7 cover aspects of the town budget.

Potential 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 being matched by a revenue hike in surplus, and 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 – an increase of 2.46 percent. That, divided by a town valuation estimated at $983.5 million, 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.

The budget and proposed ordinance changes can be viewed under the Town Meeting Information tab at topshammaine.com.

Ordinance changes

Topsham townspeople will also tackle several ordinance amendments. Standards regarding off-street parking (Article 10) include a reduction in parking minimums in a lot, and vernal pool rules are being updated (Article 14) to create a Vernal Pool Overlay District, and comply with a Maine Department of Environmental Protection management plan.

Proposed changes in building height rules (Article 11) would add a definition that creates more flexibility for structures, such as those with pitched roofs. Some maximum heights would be amended, and incentives for parking placed within a building are also proposed.

The sign ordinance (Article 12) would be 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, according to a March 29 memo from Town Planner Rod Melanson, “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 (Article 13) would add standards reflecting improved management practices regarding local stormwater rules, and better align Topsham with state standards.

Voters will also decide whether to enact a six-month moratorium on retail marijuana establishments, stores and social clubs (Article 16). The freeze, which the Board of Selectmen discussed last November, would follow the narrow passage earlier that month of a statewide referendum to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 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.