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Councilors approve $4.5M Dexter budget

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DEXTER — The 2019-20 Dexter municipal budget totals $4,565,863 and is nearly identical to the previous year’s spending plan, down by just $423. The town council approved the spending plan during a July 11 meeting.

The town’s approximate $2 million share of the SAD 46 budget and $314,000 in Penobscot County tax combined with municipal operations totals $6,223,931, an increase of $424,782 from 2018-19. A total of $1,658,068 in revenues is $425,205 more than the year before, resulting in the $423 net budget decrease.

“Taxes are going to be the same,” Council Chair Peter Haskell said prior to the approval of a $19.60 mill rate for the new fiscal year.

Eligible residents have the opportunity to split up their tax payments through membership in the tax club, as the council approved this method of property tax collection for 2019-20. About 90 property owners took part last year and applications will be included in tax bills.

In other business, the council took no action on the recommendations of the cannabis task force. Councilors will continue to look at the possibility of allowing for commercial marijuana operations in town.

Town Manager Trampas King began by reading a multiple page statement, saying late last year amendments to the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act came into effect specifying that no new retail stores, manufacturing facilities, testing facilities or dispensaries can begin operation in a municipality unless the legislative body affirmatively votes to allow that type of establishment to locate in town.

“At our Nov. 8 council meeting I, Trampas King, the town manager of Dexter, volunteered to launch a cannabis task force to help the council in making a decision on what direction the town should go in the future when dealing with marijuana establishments,” he said. “The cannabis task force was voted in during the Dec. 8, 2018 council meeting and have been meeting since Dec. 14, 2018. Since that time we have had 12 meetings, including one public forum on May 20, 2019. Our members consist of two council members and 10 full-time Dexter residents representing a variety of ages, terms of residency in town and supporters on both sides of the legalization of marijuana.”

King said the group first looked to see if a medical marijuana dispensary would benefit Dexter. Soon they realized they would need to learn much more as they became more familiar with hemp, THC, CBD and other aspects of marijuana.

Positive and negative bullet points were developed by the cannabis task force. Positives include job creation, filling empty homes and population growth for the community. Medical replacement for opioids, being less addictive than other drugs and being a natural remedy as health benefits. Financial positives identified include job creation, being progressive, taxes (limited), businesses moving into town and growth.

The negative bullet points under community are a negative impact on the culture, more traffic, the smell/odor, influx of big businesses in the cannabis industry moving in/taking over, attracting less desirable people to town, loss of land to larger growing operations, the dangers of driving under the influence and keeping away from schools and parks. The task force also identified a concern over increased access and exposure for children.

Other negative points include health impacts, more police/fire services being needed and a decrease in property values. Other concerns were illegal growing and the potential to attract more criminal activity.

King said five advisory questions were asked on the June referendum ballot (the results can be found at https://dextermaine.org/news-press-releases/) and each was voted down by a varying number of votes. During the November 2016 election Dexter residents voted against the state referendum to have marijuna legalized for recreational use, retail sale and taxation via a count of 1,014-768 or 57 to 43 percent.

“As a committee we understand that we do not make the final decision on this, but we are simply asking the council to take our research and data in order to make an informed decision best suited for the town and its residents” King said. “It should be noted that there is concern that medical marijuana and recreational marijuana will eventually be one.”

The town manager said so far 14 of 488 Maine municipalities have opted in to allow some or all of the four types of non-medical marijuana businesses authorized under state law. “I would still like to see this committee work with our planning board on land use ordinances relating to and on this issue,” King said.

Resident Kasey Gilbert said he did not agree with the negative bulletin points. “I think these bulletin points are nonsense, they’re not realistic,” he said, saying many residents use marijuana responsively instead of resorting to alcohol or opiates.

“It can be regulated or unregulated, it’s still here,” he said.

Councilor Sharon Grant said she has read a great deal about marijuana and the town needs other business besides cannabis. “I am not in favor of anything until we get with the planning board and see a business plan,” she said.

“I want you guys to really think about is this something that will give Dexter an opportunity to have an uptick?,” Gilbert said.

“Regardless of what we do as a council, it’s not going to stop you from getting marijuana,” Councilor Steve Gudroe said. “What we have to get over is we have had two votes by the town of Dexter.”

“What we are facing is we are a representative government and this town runs on the voters,” he added about the two referendums with the opposition having more votes in both instances.

“I would recommend that you do a no vote and just keep looking into it,” King said to the council.

“It has to be really thought through because once it’s here, it’s here,” Grant said.

The council also heard from Pastor Andrew Bermudez of the First Baptist Church of Dexter about the upcoming Group Missions Trips workcamp in Dexter from July 22-26.

“There’s a huge workcamp that is coming here starting in 12 days, in 10 days there will be 400 people converging on town,” Bermudez said. “There are 58-63 homes that are receiving free home repairs in this town.”

Home improvement projects are being carried out by hundreds of volunteers from around the country through Group Missions Trips, a non-profit, interdenominational Christian volunteer home-repair organization based in Fort Collins, Colorado. This summer there will be 35 different workcamps with over 14,000 volunteers going into communities across the United States. The local workcamp is being sponsored by the town, The First Baptist Church and various businesses after about two years of planning.

“It’s going to be crazy but it’s going to be good, I’m looking forward to it,” King said. “We will be posting things on Facebook so pay attention to the Dexter page.”

“We’re hoping to show Dexter in a good light,” Bermudez said. He said he had just come from a meeting with the Dexter Sunrise Kiwanis about the organization hosting the volunteers the Wednesday evening they are in town.

The pastor joked there may be traffic jams in Dexter later in the month, with the hundreds of workcamp participants traveling to and from the sites. They will be staying at the Ridge View Community School.

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