BETHEL — Public hearings on proposed ordinances — one to ban the use of single-use carry-out plastic bags and polystyrene foam containers by town businesses, and others to regulate adult use and medical marijuana – will take place over the next two weeks.

The bag ban hearing is scheduled for May 15 at 6 p.m. at the Bethel Inn Conference Center (behind the town office).  The marijuana one will take place May 22 at 6 p.m. at the Crescent Park School. The issues will be voted upon by ballot by townspeople on June 11.

The proposed plastic bag ban has changed since February, when it was the subject of much debate at a public hearing.

Many at that gathering supported the ordinance, saying it was needed to protect the environment and reduce littering and solid waste expenses.  Supporters noted that plastic bags and polystyrene can be ingested by fish and wildlife, and the animals can also become entangled in them.

But one provision of the proposal was a key sticking point for some business people – a requirement that stores only sell or provide a single use paper carryout bag at a mandatory minimum fee of five cents, with the amount of sale on the bag separately itemized on the sale receipt and records kept of all bags sold.  Some business people objected to having to keep records on and inventory paper bags, saying it would add significantly to their workload.

That provision has now been dropped from the final ordinance proposal.

Other concerns expressed in February included the idea that the ban would be forced “down the throats” of businesses, and that some older customers might not be able to purchase reusable bags or carry paper bags.  Some at the hearing said education on using other kinds of bags would be a better approach.

Proposed changes to the Site Plan Review Ordinance will also be presented at the May 15 public hearing, and will be voted on at the Town Meeting.

Marijuana hearing

The May 22 hearing will cover separate ordinances addressing adult use marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, testing and retail stores; as well as medical marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, testing facilities, dispensaries and caregiver retail storefronts. The proposals were prepared by the town’s Ordinance Review Committee.

Municipal budget 

On Monday Bethel selectmen and the town Budget Committee wrapped up their work on the proposed municipal budget, which voters will consider at the annual Town Meeting June 12.

The two panels added $88,126 to the budget to cover an $80,000 increase in cost for a road/sewer/water project on Chapman Street and $8,126 for the town’s match to the state on a sidewalk project running from the Route 2 Androscoggin bridge over to the Parkway.

The lowest bid on the Chapman Street project was $80,000 more than the approximate $620,000 town had estimated, according to town officials.

Bethel’s overall municipal expense budget for FY’19 was $2,935,081, according to town records.  The proposal for FY’20 is expected to be over $3.1 million, but the final figures have not yet been calculated.

The budgeters also voted Monday on how much money to recommend taking from the Undesignated Surplus account, which holds approximately $2.1 million, to reduce taxes. The Budget Committee voted for $100,000 and the selectmen $200,000.

Last year voters approved $200,000.  Town officials said the state recommends keeping at least six months worth of funds in the account to cover town expenses, and the $2.1 million represents less than three months.


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