Marijuana choices could rile Bernardston voters

  • Bernardston Town Hall. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • AP Photo AP Photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/3/2018 9:01:25 PM

BERNARDSTON — Marijuana will likely be one of the more controversial issues at Town Meeting, which will convene Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Pioneer Valley Regional School auditorium.

In May, residents voted 158 to 144 to ban the sale of recreational marijuana in Bernardston, but the decision must be ratified at Town Meeting. The ban requires a two-thirds majority.

If that ban passes, it can only be made effective if voters also approve an amendment to the zoning bylaw. That article also requires a two-thirds majority.

If the ban fails, two other articles on regulating the sale and use of recreational marijuana will be put to voters: whether to impose a 3-percent tax on sales; and whether the “open container” laws should be modified to apply to marijuana as well as alcohol, effectively restricting its use in public places.

“We’re the keepers of this town and it’s our responsibility to preserve the character, both fiscally and morally,” said Paula Reid, one of a few Bernardston residents campaigning against recreational marijuana.

But considering how close the May vote was, residents who oppose recreational marijuana feel helpless to stop it, said Ghislaine Burgess, who is also campaigning against it.

“We’re here to tell them there’s something they can do about it,” Burgess said. “They can go to the meeting and vote. This is the last chance they have to let their voices be heard on this issue.”

Burgess, Reid and others are offering transportation to Town Meeting for those who would otherwise be unable to get there.

Other issues

Bernardston’s budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is divided into four sections that must be approved individually: salaries for elected officials, education, contracted services and public services. The total proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year is $5,190,962, a 1.6 percent increase over this year’s budget of $5,106,675.

Bernardston must also decide whether to pay $31,554 each year for the next three years to retire the debt incurred by the Pioneer Valley Regional School District through its school lunch program. The other three towns of the Pioneer district have already approved their portions.

Bernardston will also decide whether to change the Fire Department to a “strong chief” model. Fire Chief Peter Shedd supports the change. In the current model, all decisions go through a 12-member board, which is often inefficient, Shedd said. Under the strong chief model, he said, he could delegate tasks to smaller specialized groups. He also said he would be able to create a position for a medical officer in the department. About 65 percent of the calls the department gets are medical-related, Shedd said.

Financial articles

$50,000 for the vehicle stabilization fund

$15,191.36 for the Recreation Commission expense account

$1,200 for the Cemetery Commission

$15,000 for the renovate/construct town buildings account

$100 for the flag replacement account

$5,000 for the town audit

$4,750 for the Board of Assessors revaluation

$5,000 for the other post-employment benefits liability trust fund

$5,000 for the Fire Station Expansion Committee to join the Pioneer Valley Mosquito Control District

$3,000 for the mosquito control account

$5,000 for the Employee retirement/separation account

$50,000 from the overlay surplus to reduce the tax rate

$40,000 for a new police cruiser

$8,000 for a hydrology study

$50,000 to replace culverts

$164,800 to lease for five years a front-end loader for the Highway Department

Revolving funds

Voters will decide whether to put the spending limits on revolving funds:

Council on Aging donations, $10,000

Board of Health, $15,000

Zoning Board of Appeals, $1,000

Planning Board, $2,000

Dog Licenses, $3,000

Public Safety, $15,000

Transfer station recycling, $37,000

Cushman Library, $5,000

Agricultural Commission, $5,000

Newsletter, $2,000


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