MANCHESTER — Following a motion from a resident to combine all budget-related articles into a single vote, citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Manchester voters approved the entire annual Town Meeting warrant in about 12 minutes Thursday night.

Shortly after moderator state Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, had started to work through the 45-article warrant, resident Jeff Reardon made a motion to consider all the budget-related articles, from 4 to 40, in a single vote.

His thought was that all those articles had been recommended unanimously by both the Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee, and residents were likely to pass them all without much debate. Voting on them together would be a good way to lessen the time everyone spent gathered together in a fairly large group in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, he said, “at a time when a lot of us don’t want to spend a lot of time with a bunch of people.”

His motion, and articles 4 to 40, passed without objection.

It only took a few minutes for residents to approve the remaining few articles, one of which establishes rules — but not a limit — on marijuana cultivation operations in town.

In response to a question from a resident about how many grow operations would be allowed under the ordinance, Leon Strout, chairman of the Planning Board, said the ordinance does not set a limit to the number of growing operations in town, unlike how the town has a limit on the number of marijuana retail stores in town under existing ordinances.

“This is for grow facilities, they’re not going to sell it (retail), we’re not putting a limit on the number of grow facilities,” Strout said, explaining that a business can’t grow and sell marijuana from the same building.

Residents also voted to accept Smith Road, a short road off Puddledock Road, as a town road, and adopt wetland land use rule changes. Town Manager E. Patrick Gilbert said town officials thought, for decades, Smith Road already was a town road.

The budget articles approved by residents make up the town’s $2.03 million budget, which Gilbert said is up slightly. But when the town budget is combined with Manchester’s share of the Regional School Unit 38 budget and Kennebec County budget, the total spending plan of $6.5 million is down by about $78,000, or 1.1%, from the current year.

Gilbert said the tax rate will likely be stable, remaining about where it is now, though the final number won’t be set until the town’s total current property value is assessed.

Among the spending items voters approved was $10,000 to upgrade the fire department’s emergency radio communication system by moving the system to a new, taller tower on Beacon Road near the Manchester-Hallowell line. The tower was formerly used by the city of Augusta, but they gave it to Manchester to use for emergency communications.

The town now uses a radio frequency shared with Hallowell Fire Department, since Manchester had to stop using a radio frequency shared with the Lakes Region Mutual Aid Group — Fayette, Readfield, Wayne, Mount Vernon and Vienna — after Manchester left its longstanding mutual aid pact with the association last year. Both Manchester and Hallowell will use the tower for public safety communications and continue to share a frequency.

While some municipalities opted to use secret ballot votes for Town Meeting warrants — due to the coronavirus pandemic and state guidelines which seek to limit indoor public gatherings to 50 people or less — Manchester officials decided to stick with their usual open floor form of Town Meeting.

A little more than 30 people attended the meeting, town officials included, all of whom appeared to be wearing masks inside the gymnasium at Manchester Elementary School.

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