News Feature

Stonington
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 1, 2018
Pot ban tops Stonington town meeting agenda

by Rich Hewitt

Voters at the upcoming March 5 annual town meeting will be asked to adopt an ordinance that will ban retail sales of marijuana and the establishment of marijuana social clubs in town. The ordinance, if adopted, will go into effect immediately in order to coincide with the expiration of a town moratorium on those sales and establishments. It would prohibit marijuana stores, and retail cultivation, product manufacturing and testing facilities as well as retail marijuana social clubs.

The reason for the ban, according to town officials, is the same as that which prompted the moratorium: the state Legislature has not yet established regulations and guidelines for the growing and sale of marijuana. Maine voters approved a referendum question in 2016 making recreational pot legal in the state. Although a portion of the law that allows individuals to grow up to six mature plants and possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot went into effect more than a year ago, legislators and the governor have not been able to agree on legislation to regulate and tax the commercial growing and sale of marijuana.

“It’s not clear how long it’s going to be for the state to come up with something,” Town Manager Kathleen Billings said at a recent selectmen’s meeting. “The state has not given the towns any guidance on this. We need to have a ban on retail marijuana until the state comes up with something.”

There have been no requests for permits to open any type of marijuana shop in town and few people turned out for the recent public hearing on the proposed ordinance. Ron Dahlen voiced his support of the ordinance, arguing that without some regulation someone could put a retail shop in the first floor of the Legion Hall and start a pot social club on the second floor.

“Is that going to be good for our town?” he asked.

Dahlen reported on a recent trip to Colorado where recreational marijuana has been legal for several years. From talks with local businesspeople, he said, it appears that is has been a disaster.

“They have to drug test everybody and there’s very few who can pass the drug test,” he said. “They talk about how much money marijuana has brought in, but they don’t say how much they’ve lost because of a decrease in production.”

Although Billings noted that residents could petition to reconsider the ban once the state has set the rules, she said enacting the ban will allow the town to avoid a “legal quagmire” of establishing regulations on its own without the backing of the state. With no laws, either state or local, the town would have no way of regulating pot stores and/or social clubs, including where they should be located.

Budget

The budget totals $1,652,139, an increase of $51,565 over last year, much of it coming in large increases in a few accounts. Proposed spending in the tarring account, at $100,000, is up $38,000 from 2017. The reason, according to Selectman Evelyn Duncan, is that 2018 will be a catch-up year.

“Last year we tried to get a flat budget, so we didn’t do any paving last year,” she said. “This year we’re doing our normal paving plus we have to pave Thurlow’s Hill, where the water company project was last year.”

That increase is offset somewhat by a drop in road maintenance wages, down $26,000 reflecting a smaller road crew this year. But workers compensation costs are up almost $3,000 in that account and have increased throughout the budget.

The transfer station account is up almost $20,000, half of that coming in anticipated increases in the tipping fees at PERC. And third party requests also have increased by almost $20,000. The library has requested $10,000, an increase of $4,000 as it works to increase its operating hours, and the Opiate-Free Island Partnership has again requested $20,000 to help fund its efforts to tackle the opiate addition problem on the island. Voters at the 2017 town meeting rejected that request.

Comprehensive plan

The town got word earlier this year that the state had completed its review of the town’s proposed comprehensive plan and determined that it was in compliance with state planning regulations. The final step in the process, which began last summer, is for voters at town meeting to approve the plan.

Island Community Center

Requested by the ICC board, this article asks voters to signal their support for the community center and the former town school building that serves as its base. The board asked to have the article on the town meeting warrant after a building survey estimated that it will cost more than $600,000 to make repairs to the building to correct problems and bring it up to code. Those repairs and improvements would still leave the building with several drawbacks and limited flexibility.

ICC board members acknowledged the problems with the building but have argued that the improvements do not need to be done all at once. If approved, the article would direct the selectmen and the ICC board to work together to find solutions to improving the building and keeping it open.

Sand salt shed

Voters will be asked to allocate $400,000 from the town’s surplus account to build a sand salt shed. The building would be sited off to the side of the present building and would be roughly 60’ x 100 or 120’, said Town Manager Kathleen Billings. The building, although it has been a discussion point for many years, has come to the fore of planning after a citation from the town’s insurance carrier Maine Municipal Association which wrote up the town for the building’s condition, prompting an “action plan,” said Billings. “The sides are collapsing,” she said, noting that the present building is roughly 20 years old and that the leaching salt has polluted at least one well in the area.

Spending surplus

Voters also will be asked to authorize the selectmen to draw on the reserve account to fund major projects in town. Those include:

Establishment of a Waterfront Reserve Account, as recommended in the comprehensive plan, along with a separate articled allocation $50,000 from surplus to fund that account;

$10,000 from Surplus to serve as matching funds for a grant to study the feasibility of expanding high speed fiber internet options to town;

$100,000 from Surplus to fund the downtown sidewalk project;

$200,000 from Surplus to fund upgrades at the Transfer Station.

Municipal Budget: $1,652,139
Budget increase: $51,565
Warrant Articles: 84
Voting: 8 a.m.-noon, Monday, March 5, upstairs at the municipal building.
Town Meeting: 3 p.m., Monday, March 5, upstairs at the municipal building.