MADISON — Residents who attended the annual Town Meeting on Monday night approved the $2,584,410 municipal budget in short order at the Madison Junior High School auditorium.

The meeting, which lasted roughly an hour, began with an informational session about possible regulations for retail marijuana establishments. In 2016, Maine voters approved Question 1, which legalized recreational marijuana. Since then, many towns have sought ways to delay implementation with many adopting moratoriums. In Madison 51 percent of voters voted against Question 1.

During the informational session, Town Manager Tim Curtis explained that the town’s current moratorium on retail marijuana facilities expires at the end of the month. He said since state legislators are working on refining regulations, Madison did not need to rush into another moratorium. The state’s moratorium runs through January of 2018, but Curtis said it’s likely that will be extended further into 2018.

A town committee conducted an informal survey of about 100 people to see what level of interest there was to impose regulations. The study found 28 percent responded that they didn’t want regulation beyond what was already required for business development. Twenty-seven percent said they wanted regulations that limit where a retail marijuana business can be located. And 45 percent said they wanted to prohibit all retail marijuana establishments in Madison.

There will be a follow up survey asking what types of marijuana businesses should be prohibited, including cultivation operations with more than six plants; manufacturers of marijuana related products; businesses that test marijuana products; retail stores for marijuana products; and social clubs for recreational use of marijuana products; as well as whether all recreational marijuana businesses should be prohibited or no marijuana business should be prohibited.

Curtis explained during the meeting how the closure of Madison Paper Mill would affect tax rates. The town continues to lose valuation on the mill, since it is no longer producing paper. In 2016, the mill was still operational and thus taxable. To make up for “upwards of $30 million worth of value” that won’t be captured in 2017, Curtis said the tax rate would have to go up.

The mill closed in May 2016 and was sold to what was described as a joint venture of New Mill Capital Holdings, of New York; Perry Videx, of Hainesport, New Jersey; and Infinity Asset Solutions, of Toronto. In April, the hydro power facilities were sold to Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, LLC, a hydroelectric power producer based in Morristown, New Jersey.

Curtis said in 2016, the mill paid $1.5 million in taxes to the town, but later filed an abatement asking for $1 million back from the town. The town’s board of assessors denied the request, though the mill representatives have appealed to the state board of property tax review. Curtis said they are now waiting to hear from the state. He said the uncertainty of what will come out of this “casts a shadow over the town’s finances” for the next six months to a year.

The abatement hearing likely wouldn’t be until sometime in the winter or spring of 2018, Curtis said, with the “best case scenario” being the mill dropping the case or losing it.

“That has an impact on our budget,” he told the crowd of about 50.

Major items approved included $855,540 for public safety; $480,808 for the public works department; $170,470 for community services; $513,563 for a general government account, which includes administration, assessing services, code enforcement and costs for boards and committees. A handful of the warrant items had money from an existing tax increment financing district appropriated to offset costs. For example, the actual cost for public safety was $909,655 but had over $54,000 from the TIF appropriated towards it.

The approved budget represents an overall decrease of about $62,000 from the previous municipal budget, which equates to a 2.3 percent reduction. One of the reductions made came in the form of policing. Two years ago, Madison entered into a contract with the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office to have them serve as the town’s police agency. With that, the town would have had five deputies serving the town and 24-hour coverage. However, Curtis explained that the coverage has been difficult to get, and in only a few months over the last two years has the town had the five deputies.

The county reimbursed the town $50,000 which hasn’t been spent. In an effort to save $35,000, the budget calls for staying with just four deputies and having only on-call police coverage between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. The reserve account would be kept as is, in case the town decided to try the five-deputy model again.

This was the most discussed item in the warrant, with some confusion over the fact that in the town’s contribution towards Somerset County, there is an allocation of funding to the Sheriff’s Office. Curtis explained that this is different than the actual police coverage, as the county share largely goes towards the jail.

Another area for saving involved the sanitary district. The district usually budgeted $65,000 for stormwater drain fees, but that number dropped to $30,000 once the mill closed. There was also a project on the books for reconstruction on Heald Street with funding approved at the 2014 Town Meeting. The sanitary department is not in a position to tackle the project right now, so the Board of Selectmen has recommended voters take the $175,000 for that project and appropriate it for other, smaller, paving projects. These projects include some paving on Heald Street, but also elsewhere, such as on North Street, Hardy Street, Preble Avenue, Glendale Street, Maxim Street, Garden Street and Brown Street. These funds would also go towards a few highway capital expenses.

The last article on the warrant authorized the selectmen to extend a line of credit with Bangor Savings Bank for another year. The $2.5 million line of credit ends on Dec. 31, and it hasn’t been used to date. Extending the credit line gives the town a way to pay in case the mill wins its abatement case.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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