WINSLOW — The Town Council voted to enact a moratorium on retail marijuana establishments after a public hearing Tuesday, and it tabled the first votes on recommendations from the town’s agricultural commission for the farm support program.

The public hearing at 7 p.m. drew no comments.

The council ultimately voted to approve the ordinance, 5-0, which bans recreational marijuana establishments in town for 180 days. The state has enacted a moratorium on all recreational marijuana retail establishments until at least February 2018, but some towns still are moving forward with efforts to enact their own moratoriums.

Councilor Ken Fletcher said the town should take advantage of this time to amend its ordinances and write restrictions.

The Nov. 8 vote on Question 1 legalized marijuana establishments such as retail stores, growing facilities and social clubs, as well as personal use and possession of recreational marijuana.

Fletcher also proposed a change to the normal flow of council meetings, suggesting that the council insert a public comment time slot to allow people two minutes to talk about issues not related to the agenda. Chairman Steve Russell agreed to implement the proposal and gave time for public comment, though no one from the audience spoke.

Councilors tabled the first votes on the first two recommendations for the Voluntary Municipal Farm Support Program, the first in the state, from Winslow’s agricultural commission after Fletcher proposed an amendment.

The program was established in Maine through legislation in 2007 that was written by John Piotti, who is now president of the American Farmland Trust in Washington, D.C.

In the program’s agreement, the town provides “support payments” to the farmland owner that equal all or part of the assessed property taxes each year. In exchange, the landowner agrees to conserve the farmland for 20 years.

The commission received applications from Wayne Hapworth and Russell. They recommended that the council accept both applications for 100 percent rebates on most land and farm buildings.

One concern about the program was the affect on taxes.

According to the town’s tax assessor, Judy Mathieu, the two farms that applied this year would cost the town about $7,000, which would increase the tax rate by about 1 cent.

Fletcher proposed the council amend the orders and use a framework to decide the rebate percentages, saying farmland acreage should be rebated at 90 percent and structures at 75 percent.

Hapworth spoke to the council, saying he might not be interested in “tying up my land” for 20 years if he gets a rebate of 75 percent and not 100 percent, as the commission recommended.

Kate Newkirk, co-chairwoman of the commission, noted that the rebate does not include the residences on the farms or unused buildings.

“We feel this is a minimal amount for these two farms, which are probably the biggest farms in town and are full-time family farms,” she said.

She also said the commission had not seen the proposed amendment, and that they should be able to consider it before going forward.

The commission invited the councilors to come to its meeting on at 2 p.m. Thursday to get more information on the program.

In other business, the council voted to table the first reading of an ordinance that would require annual registration for a business permit from the town, 5-0. The initial $25 new businesses pay for use permits will remain, but instead it will go to annual registration. Consecutive years will be free, Town Manager Michael Heavener said. Annual registration will help the town keep track of which businesses are still open and need to pay taxes and which have closed, he said.

If a business didn’t pay its taxes, it wouldn’t be eligible to register again, Heavener said. If it continued to operate, the town could impose a penalty, which would be $250 to $2,500 per day per violation, as per state statute, Code Enforcement Officer Dabney Lewis said.

“But in most communities, you’ll end up signing a consent agreement for $250 or $500, or pay the taxes,” Lewis said.

Heavener added that the town wouldn’t be “heavy-handed,” as the goal is to get compliance. He is allowing four people to pay the town back on payment plans now, he said.

“Is it a reasonable remedy for the problem we’re trying to solve?” Fletcher said. While he understands the issue, he said, he doesn’t know if the approach will work. According to Fletcher’s calculations, 8 percent of businesses are delinquent on taxes, so he needed more time to think about whether it is necessary.

“I think most businesses will view this as another imposition,” he said.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

 

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