MANCHESTER — Residents will decide whether to ban single-use plastic bags in retail stores in a referendum question Tuesday, which could make Manchester the first capital-area municipality to ban their use.

Conservation Commission Chairman Gary Hinckley said he hopes the proposal passes and that other area communities follow suit to ban plastic bags, which he said litter roadsides and harm the environment and animals that might eat the plastic.

“We’re kind of hoping we’ll lead the way a little bit, and maybe some other communities will take it on as well,” Hinckley said of the ban, which would ban the use of plastic bags as a means of carrying most products purchased at the counters of retail stores. “They’re not just an eyesore. It’s getting plastics into the environment, into the food chain, which is a real concern. It could make a big difference in our little corner of the world.”

The proposed new ordinance goes to voters Tuesday in a secret-ballot question at the polls. Voting at the polls Tuesday will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the fire station and will be followed by the Town Meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, at Manchester Elementary School.

The bag ban would not apply to paper bags, reusable bags, produce bags, bags required for products that need special handling, or bags provided by pharmacists to carry prescription drugs.

Hinckley said he has not heard criticism of the proposed ban from local business owners, who were invited to a public meeting to discuss the idea.

Scott Longfellow, co-owner of Longfellow’s Greenhouses, one of the few business owners to attend a public meeting on the issue, doesn’t anticipate that the ban would hurt his business. That’s in large part because the greenhouse business already bags or wraps most of what it sells in paper.

“It’s not really a problem to us at all; we’re predominantly paper already,” Longfellow said Friday. He said many customers already viewed plastic bags as bad for the environment, which played a role in the business making the switch away from plastic even before the ban.

“Out of respect for (the public’s desire to not use plastic bags) and out of respect for the environment, we’re very nearly there now,” he said. “It may add a little more expense, but it’s worth it, to do what’s right.”

Hinckley said the ordinance provision allowing plastic to be used for products that require special handling was added at Longfellow’s request. Longfellow said some house plants are so large and uniquely shaped that the only way to wrap them so they’re protected effectively for travel is with plastic.

Hinckley said the manager of the local Rite Aid store said the store is ready to implement the change as soon as the ordinance passes, if it does. He said the chain already has switched away from plastic at other stores where plastic bags are banned.

Hinckley hopes people already are used to bringing their own reusable shopping bags to grocery stores, so also bringing such bags to a smaller store to pick up a few items won’t take long to get used to doing.

He said during an annual roadside cleanup in town, plastic bags frequently are found littering the sides of roads.

He said town officials won’t be actively monitoring whether retail stores comply with the ban, if it passes, but would take action if people report a store is not in compliance.

The ordinance and sample ballots are on the town’s website.

Residents at Thursday’s Town Meeting will vote on numerous funding articles related to the town budget, consider a moratorium banning any new recreational or medical marijuana storefronts, and decide whether to increase setback requirements for recreational marijuana businesses.

Changes proposed to the land use ordinance would increase the distance recreational marijuana businesses would be required to locate away from some other entities. Specifically, it would increase the required setback for such businesses from schools from 1,000 feet to 1,200 feet, from churches from 750 feet to 1,200 feet, and from parks and playgrounds from 1,000 feet to 1,200 feet. The changes would be added to marijuana ordinances adopted at last year’s Town Meeting.

E. Patrick Gilbert, town manager, said the proposed moratorium would not affect medical marijuana businesses already operating in Manchester, of which there is at least one.

Paula Thomas, chairwoman of the selectmen, said the moratorium would ban the operation and licensing of any retail marijuana establishments for 180 days.

She said the rest of the warrant is largely “routine business” of the town.

Gilbert said the proposed $1.87 million town budget is up about $25,000, or 1 percent, over the current year’s budget.

He said the budget includes $8,000 to be combined with $8,000 voters approved last year to make repairs to the Cobbossee dam, and about $3,600 for salary adjustments and new radios for the Fire Department.

Manchester’s share of the Regional School Unit 38 budget is up about $151,000, and the town’s share of the Kennebec County budget is up about $18,000, resulting in a total increase in spending for the coming year of $195,000.

The current tax rate is $16.90 for every $1,000 of property value. Gilbert said what the new tax rate will be can’t be determined until the town’s total property valuation is known.

Voters also will be asked whether the town should discontinue a roughly 1,000-foot section in the middle of Cottle Road, between Summerhaven and Prescott roads. Gilbert said the road is in such poor condition it is nearly impassible and some people have been dumping items there, so town officials want to close it for safety reasons.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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