MANCHESTER — Voters at the annual Town Meeting face several notable choices on Thursday, including proposals to cap the number of marijuana stores in town, charge a fee to accident victims to cover the fire department’s costs if the department responds, make the fire chief’s position a full-time paid gig and define what makes a plastic bag “reusable.”

The proposed new retail marijuana stores ordinance would cap the number of marijuana retail stores, whether they sell to medical patients or, pending the approval of state rules, recreational marijuana to adults, at three stores total.

There are currently four medical marijuana stores in town, according to town officials, all of which would be grandfathered by the proposed ordinance and allowed to continue operating. Thus, no new stores would be allowed into town, unless at least two of the existing stores leave town or go out of business.

“We don’t want any more,” Paula Thomas, vice-chairwoman of the select board, said of why the cap of three stores was proposed. “We want to have just three facilities. I think a lot of residents would be happy to have none. But the ones that are here are contributing to the community. It helps with the tax base, and they are all nice facilities, well kept.”

Residents at last year’s town meeting approved an ordinance regulating where and how marijuana businesses can locate in Manchester, but that ordinance did not set a maximum number of stores.

Town Manager Patrick Gilbert said a moratorium was put in place last year, temporarily preventing any new stores from coming in, after residents and officials became concerned about the number of people expressing interest in opening marijuana stores in Manchester. The town borders Augusta, where officials have said they will not allow any recreational marijuana sales.

Gilbert said the proposed new ordinance, including the cap, would apply both medical and recreational marijuana stores. All the existing stores in town are medical, as those are the only retail sales currently allowed in Maine, but could seek to become adult-use recreational stores once the state adopts rules to regulate them.

Residents will also be asked to approve a change to a local ordinance, approved by residents last year, that bans plastic bags from most stores in town.

The addition to the ordinance more specifically defines what is considered to be a reusable bag, and thus allowed to be used at stores. The new definition specifies reusable plastic bags must be at least 4 mils thick and have seams that are sewn or stitched.

Gilbert said town officials added the more detailed definition to the ordinance to make sure local stores know that “just printing the words ‘reusable bags’ on a piece of plastic doesn’t constitute a reusable bag.”

A newly proposed ordinance also going to voters, at the annual Town Meeting slated for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Manchester Elementary School, would allow the town to seek payment from the insurance companies of victims who are in car accidents or other incidents in Manchester that require a response from the department, to cover the department’s cost of responding to that incident.

The ordinance specifies that payment would only be sought from people or companies which have insurance coverage.

“Most insurance companies pay a rate for responding for fire and safety services anyway, a number of towns are doing this now,” including West Gardiner, Gilbert said of the proposal to recoup fire department costs for responding to some emergencies. “Most of our responses are to (U.S.) Route 202 for vehicle accidents, where it’s mostly non-residents you’re responding to. Our hope is to pass this ordinance and help defer those costs.”

Voters will also be asked to appropriate $37,440 to make the fire chief’s position, held by Frank Wozniak, a full-time job.

Gilbert said the position used to be a volunteer position, but last year it went to a part-time, 20-hour a week position. He said the number of people volunteering to be firefighters in Maine has been in a rapid decline, and Manchester’s department is no different, as the department now has roughly a third of the firefighters it had years ago.

The $37,440 needed to make the fire chief’s a full-time position is included in the proposed town budget that voters will also decide on, one article at a time, Thursday.

Gilbert said the $1.98 million town budget is up about 5% from the current year, and the total proposed  budget, including Manchester’s share of the county budget and Regional School Unit 38 school budget, of $6.6 million is up 4.4%.

Gilbert said no single item is responsible for the proposed spending increase. He said a projected revenue increase from state revenue sharing, from $122,000 to around $306,000, would help offset the increased spending. He said it’s too early to tell for sure, but the tax rate is likely to be comparable to the current rate, of $17.35 for every $1,000 of property value.

The Manchester annual Town Meeting on Thursday will come on the heels of secret ballot voting in local elections Tuesday, with polls at the Manchester Fire Station scheduled to be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

There are no contested races. One candidate on the ballot, Tom Oliver, chairman of the selectmen, has withdrawn as a candidate because, Gilbert said, he is moving out of town. That will leave his position as a selectman to be filed by a write-in candidate. There are also no candidates for either of two open positions on the RSU 38 school board or an open position as a trustee of the sanitary district.

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