Farmington Selectboard votes to hold annual town meeting by referendum

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FARMINGTON – The Farmington Selectmen voted during Tuesday night’s meeting to accept the warrant to host the upcoming annual town meeting on April 26 by referendum. The warrant will include topics such as proposed budget changes for the upcoming year.

Of significant values are the proposed budgets for the Police and Fire Departments of $1,506,788 and $771,154 respectively. The town will also be asked to vote on funds for a Capital Improvement road plan as well as environmental and conservation efforts. There is a procedure in place for amending potential failures.

“If any article fails in referendum, then we would schedule a traditional town meeting and hope that article passes through a vote. The public would have the ability to debate and propose other amounts,” said Town Manager Richard Davis.

Police Chief Ken Charles attended to ask for the approval of a sign-on bonus for new department hires of up to $8,000. This was proposed in an attempt to attract new qualified applicants for the remaining open positions of Detective, Supervisor, and Patrolmen.

“The question we’re asking ourselves now is how do we get people on the road really quickly? That’s to offer those officers who’ve been to the academy and are already certified a bonus. We want quality applicants,” said Charles.

According to Charles, several other communities are offering a sign-on bonus for new hires and though he’s been using the quality of life of Farmington as an incentive, he fears that it isn’t enough to compete with other towns. The board approved his request with the addendum that the sign-on bonus be limited to $2,000 for applicants who haven’t completed the academy and aren’t certified yet. There will also be a $500 recruitment bonus for existing officers.

In a public hearing, the board declined the request for the immediate transfer of a medical marijuana license from one cultivation grower to another. The attending license holder owed $18,250 in back fees though and had for the past seven months.

“It sounds more like you’re asking for an extension. I think the town should protect their ordinance,” said board member Michael Fogg.

Recently, with impacts from Covid and the changing Maine state medical marijuana laws, the state has been sending out statements to other license holders about outstanding fees. According to attending Department Head of Code Enforcement, J. Stevens Kaiser, many of those fees have been paid. In an attempt to remain fair to those who have managed their finances more diligently, the board approved a conditional transfer of licensure, contingent upon the original license-holder paying his fees back within the next 30 days.

The board was asked to consider a request to amend the standing medical marijuana ordinance to increase the number of cultivation and retail facilities allowed. Currently, the number is set at five but according to Kaiser, there is a list of seven different parties awaiting approval for both adult and medical marijuana stores.

“If we do expand our numbers, I would think it would be fair to open up enough for everyone waiting,” said Kaiser.

Looking to the town of Wilton, who has just finished amending their own medical marijuana ordinance to increase business, as an example, Chairman Matthew Smith spoke optimistically.

“They look at retail stores like they look at bars. It’s free enterprise. I know the issue is saturation, and I don’t want that, but within a few years, medical will be pretty much gone, with all the taxing from the state. I want to get ahead of that,” he said

Davis was less inclined to support the prospect of increasing the ordinance.

“A lot of thought went into the ordinance. The decision is yours, but I don’t see a reason to increase. I think it’s unnecessary,” Davis said.

Ultimately, the board couldn’t enact or propose any immediate changes but passed the decision through to the Code Enforcement Board for future consideration.

Selectmen approved the expenditure of $144,843 for the community center to install an HVAC system to increase safety for upcoming events. They also effectively adopted a new earned paid leave policy which protects part time, seasonal employees who normally wouldn’t benefit from such procedures.

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