Topsham voters to tackle $12.2M budget, retail pot ban

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TOPSHAM — Along with a $12.2 million municipal budget for next year, voters at Town Meeting next month will decide on a retail marijuana ban.

The Board of Selectmen on April 12 unanimously approved placing 19 articles on the May 16 Town Meeting warrant. The meeting will be held at the Mt. Ararat High School Commons, 73 Eagles Way, at 7 p.m.

Before the approval, the board restored $9,000 to the capital budget to fund a new zero-turn mower for the Parks and Recreation Department, replacing an existing model, Town Manager Rich Roedner reported April 13.

The change bumped the budget hike from 3.19 percent to 3.27 percent, but does not impact the draft tax rate, still due to add $1.14 per $1,000 of property valuation.

Taking into account assessments from School Administrative District 75 (currently projected at $10.3 million, up 6.6 percent) and Sagadahoc County ($1.7 million, up 0.8 percent), Topsham’s total appropriation adds up to $24.2 million. With $4.7 million in municipal revenues subtracted, the town’s tax levy would be $19.5 million, a 6.9 percent increase.

That amount, divided by the town’s $1 billion total land value, produces a tax rate of $19.26 per $1,000 of property valuation – an hike of $1.14, or 6.27 percent. A $200,000 home would see a $228 tax increase.

Articles 2-8 address various budget line items. Article 9 will ask voters to support a ban on retail marijuana establishments throughout Topsham. Towns are allowed by state law to prohibit retail establishments, but not medical marijuana dispensaries, Roedner noted.

The prohibition would have no impact on High Brow, a retail operation that sells handmade glass pipes, opened recently at Topsham Fair Mall, Town Planner Rod Melanson said April 13. The business has, as an accessory use, a medical marijuana caregiver operation for up to five clients; such clinics are allowed by state statute, Roedner said last October.

Voters at the May 2017 Town Meeting approved a moratorium on retail marijuana sales – which followed the narrow passage of a statewide referendum in November 2016 to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product. Residents extended that freeze at a special Town Meeting last December.

The state is still working to establish retail marijuana legislation. The ban in Topsham avoids continued extension of the moratorium, but the town could reconsider the matter once the state has come up with its rules.

“I don’t think it’s something that’s said and done forever,” Melanson said.

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.