Union to vote on pot ordinance, slightly higher budget in June

By Dan Otis Smith | May 16, 2017
Source: File Photo Union residents vote at the 2016 Town Meeting.

Union — Union voters will decide on prohibition of marijuana facilities, the new comprehensive plan, changeable signs and the budget June 19.

The Ordinance Prohibiting Retail Marijuana Establishments and Retail Marijuana Social Clubs bans all marijuana facilities listed under the legalization ballot measure Mainers approved in November. That includes pot stores, social clubs, and cultivation, testing and manufacturing facilities.

This would not affect Union adult residents’ right under state law to privately possess, use and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana with certain restrictions. However, licenses for sale of marijuana would not be issued in Union. And as discussed at an April 18 public hearing, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. According to the minutes of the hearing, this played a major role in town officials’ decision to put forward the ordinance.

“The basis behind the law is, if the town is following federal law, and enforcing federal law, all municipal officials are immune from federal prosecution,” the minutes read. “The courts claim if the municipality is not following federal law, the town will not be exempt from federal prosecution. The town of Union is trying to protect its code officer from potentially being a felon under federal law.”

According to national news reports, there are some signs the administration of President Donald Trump could try to more aggressively enforce the federal prohibition of both recreational and medical marijuana, even in states where it has been legalized.

Union voted to reject the legalization of marijuana by about 5 percent, or 68 votes, last November.

While private, personal use and cultivation of marijuana by adults has been legal in Maine since January, the Legislature has yet to develop regulations for retail sales, and selling marijuana remains illegal. State lawmakers have until next February to develop those regulations.

Union voters will also be asked to approve an ordinance amendment defining and restricting signs with messages that change more than once every 20 minutes. Such signs would only be permitted on Route 17.

And a new version of the 10-year comprehensive plan comes before voters this year. The 186-page plan was written over a two-year period by the Comprehensive Plan Committee, and, according to its vision statement, reflects Union residents’ desire to maintain a small, rural town, free of pollution with affordable housing and strong public services.

The annual budget is up by 1.32 percent, or $61,416, to a total of $4,725,758. Town Manager Jay Feyler said the town projects a flat mil rate with this year's proposed budget.

The largest single line-item increase comes from the Regional School Unit 40 assessment, at about $14,800, a little over half of one percent.

Feyler attributed the budget increase to school district and county costs, as well as the "theft of revenue (RS) sharing from the state."

"The state of Maine has failed to fund 55 percent of education, has continually raided revenue sharing to feed their insatiable appetite in Augusta and brag they had no tax increases," Feyler said in an email. "With full RS we would not have had a tax increase in the past six years, in fact some of those years we would have had a decrease. We are fortunate this year that even though the school budget went up significantly, our share was minimal because of the population drop."

General Government contains the largest departmental increase, at almost $22,000, with increases of $7,800 for office personnel, $5,000 for insurance and $4,000 for software support.

Among other larger increases, the proposed budget also shows a $15,300 bump for Union Ambulance, mostly in payroll, and $10,000 being added to fire truck and ambulance reserve funds.

Feyler said the town has been trying to gradually increase salaries to reach the average in the Midcoast. He said there are no imminent plans to purchase a fire truck, but that the town is trying to prepare for that eventuality as prices increase. An ambulance purchase may come next year.

Election of municipal officers will take place June 13 at the William Pullen Municipal Building between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. There are no contested races for positions in Union this year. Select Board incumbents James Justice and Greg Grotton are running to retake their two- and three-year terms, respectively. Robert Williams is running for the three-year seat on the RSU 40 School Committee, while Matthew Speno is running to take the one-year seat.

Reporter Dan Otis Smith can be reached at 594-4401 x123 or by email at dsmith@villagesoup.com.

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