MANCHESTER — Residents at Town Meeting on Thursday approved new zoning rules to regulate where recreational marijuana businesses may locate in town.

The proposal from the Planning Board bans marijuana social clubs, where patrons could use the drug, everywhere in town; but it allows marijuana cultivation, processing and manufacturing, testing, and retail sales and distribution in at least some zones in town, with varying levels of review of each required by the Planning Board.

Keegan Ballard, code enforcement officer, said the town created the new rules to be proactive as a state legislative committee works to craft statewide rules on recreational marijuana, which Maine voters legalized last November. He said the local rules would be ready for when the state approves its rules, preventing a business from seeking to open a recreational marijuana business in Manchester before the town would have a chance to establish local regulations.

“We want to put this through so we can at least shape where these sorts of businesses could potentially come into play,” Ballard said, “so it’s not open season where anybody can come in and try to put in an application before we have anything in place.”

Voters also approved a separate proposal that bans recreational marijuana businesses within 1,000 feet of a school, 750 feet of a church and 1,000 feet of a park or playground.

In other business, one resident questioned an article seeking an appropriation of $30,500 for FirstPark, a regional business park in Oakland, asking what FirstPark does for the town. Several town officials and residents responded by saying, together, “Nothing.”

Several years ago, Manchester and other municipalities in the region joined the FirstPark organization, committing themselves to fund it annually with a goal of creating jobs and eventually returning revenue to the communities that joined.

However, the park has failed to break even or return revenue that exceed expenses. Town Manager E. Patrick Gilbert said last year the park created a net loss of $17,000 for Manchester and has never broken even. He said the town is contractually committed to remain a partner in the park until 2021.

“It was supposed to be a high-tech business park that was supposed to be a boon to the region,” Selectman Doug Ide said. “It turned out to be a boondoggle, instead.”

Most of the warrant articles were for spending items that are part of the proposed town budget for the coming year.

The $1.8 million town budget is up about $25,000, or 1.3 percent, over the current year’s budget, which Gilbert said was the first increase sought by the town in six years.

Gilbert said increased revenue, including a boost in excise tax revenue, probably will offset the proposed $25,000 increase in town spending.

Manchester’s $4.8 million share of the $17.2 million Maranacook Area Schools Regional School Unit 38 budget is up nearly $300,000 over the current year.

The tax rate, currently $16.40 per $1,000 of assessed property value, probably will increase, Gilbert said, though the exact amount can’t be determined until other factors, including the total town valuation, are determined.

Residents on Thursday authorized selectmen to use up to $100,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance account, made up of money unspent in previous years, to help fund the budget and limit the amount of new money that would come from taxpayers this year. Gilbert said there is about $1.3 million in that account.

One resident, Josh Black, said the town appears to be spending too much, in various accounts, on mowing lawns. He said if each separate lawn-mowing spending item in the budget is combined, it shows the town spends about $30,000 a year mowing lawns, which town officials said include ballfields, four cemeteries and other public areas.

“I still think $30,000 to cut lawns for six months of the year is very exuberant,” Black said.

Ide agreed it might sound like a lot of money but said mowing lawns is not as lucrative a business as it might seem. He said it’s hard work and the cemeteries need to be mowed by hand. He said the town put the most expensive lawn mowing jobs out to bid and selected the low bidder to do the work.

About 60 people attended the meeting, which lasted about an hour and a half.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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