NEWPORT — Residents on Saturday approved an ordinance prohibiting retail marijuana establishments and social clubs in town and approved a municipal budget of $3,049,000 at Town Meeting.
Nearly 60 residents attended the meeting, which lasted about three hours in a chilly gymnasium at the Newport Recreation Center. The meeting never became contentious, few items were discussed beyond clarification questions, and the attendance slowly dissipated throughout the meeting.
Almost all of the 51 items in the town warrant passed easily, with the exception of item related to transferring insurance funds into a an unemployment insurance reserve account, which was opposed because residents concluded there was sufficient funding already.
Also, one resident tried to reduce the Fire Department account by $68,000. That was one line item that accounted for an increase in the budget, of about $9,000, caused by making the fire chief’s position full-time. The motion to remove $68,000 failed, and the recommended Fire Department account budget of $214,342 passed.
Otherwise, budget related items were passed without much incident.
The question about enacting an ordinance to prohibit retail marijuana establishments elicited some conversation, mostly relating to public safety and whether marijuana is a gateway drug — meaning that using it could lead a person to use more dangerous drugs.
Though the ordinance was approved, Town Manager Jim Ricker told the audience that even without it, no permits for such businesses could have been issued in the town until state legislators come up with implementation guidelines, which are not expected until next March. Without state regulations in place, he said, the town would not issue any kind of permits for this.
“We can’t really do anything until March of 2018,” he said to the crowd.
If residents want to repeal the ordinance, they would need to circulate a petition to get the item on another Town Meeting warrant.
Some of the larger line items in the budget included $284,666 for the administration account, which is $8,235 less than in 2016; $512,514 for the Police Department account, which is down from $550,503 in 2016; and $214,342 for the Fire Department, which is an increase of $9,134 from 2016. The recommendation for the Public Works Department is also down from 2016. This year’s recommendation is $330,093; last year’s was $375,052.
All told, the approved municipal budget, which excludes school spending and the county tax, is $40,000 larger than the previous municipal budget. Ricker had said the increase was mostly a result of a $50,000 increase in expenditures for road repairs.
In most cases, department expenditures were lower than they were in the previous budget.
There were two contested races in the town election, which was held Friday. One spot was open for a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen. Incumbent Vice Chairman Douglas Franklin won re-election by receiving 92 votes. His challenger, Robert Ross, received 14. Also, two spots for three-year terms are available on the board of directors of Regional School Unit 19, which serves the towns of Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans. Incumbent Erik Stitham received 59 votes and Ryan Parker received 66 votes. Incumbent Frederick Hickey received 46 votes and did not win re-election.
Colin Ellis — 861-9253