May 22—Turner voters approved a $3.2 million budget at Saturday's annual meeting that also endorsed allowing stores to sell recreational marijuana and to begin paying for two firefighters to be on duty during the weekday hours when nearly every volunteer is employed out of town.
Kurt Schaub, the town manager, said that about 75 people showed up for the more than two-hour session in the cafeteria at Leavitt Area High School, "a little lighter" than normal but a welcome change from the necessity of canceling the annual meeting entirely because of the pandemic.
Schaub said voters agreed to revise a two-year-old medical marijuana statute, which had been part of the town's zoning rules, to create instead a stand-alone ordinance that allows the production and sale of recreational marijuana for adult use as well. It took effect immediately upon passage Saturday.
Schaub said the town has four stores that currently sell medical marijuana in Turner, with two more slated to open soon. Two others are in the pipeline, he said, perhaps a reflection of the tourist traffic that passes through on Route 4.
Residents were "pretty definitive" in their support for the change, he said.
The budget, which didn't go up at all last year because voters never got to consider it, rose more than it normally would in a single year, Schaub said, because it had to make up for a missing year of normal cost hikes.
Beyond that, he said, it also included an additional $100,000 for paving to help the town catch up on its regular cycle to deal with its 70 miles of roads at the rate of five to seven miles annually.
The new firefighters to staff the fire station during weekday daytime hours will add a bit more than $100,000 to the town's cost as well.
Schaub said that with only one of its 30 volunteer firefighters available during the day, he was being asked to do far too much work for one person who happens to be in town. They'll work closely with the three rescue personnel who are already on staff, he said, and ought to ease the pressure while ensuring good coverage.
It could have been worse for taxpayers.
Schaub said council members were "extremely conservative" in their revenue estimates for the current fiscal year because nobody knew how badly the pandemic would impact municipal revenue and spending.
As it turned out, revenues were good and federal aid helped, too.
"Our worst fears were just blown out of the water," Schaub said, and the town "is doing far better than anyone imagined" a year ago.
A few other issues also arose during the meeting.
One resident asked for Turner to declare itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary that would try to protect the rights of gun owners.
But the request went nowhere after Kevin Nichols, a member of the Board of Selectmen with a background in law enforcement, explained that adopting the measure might complicate efforts by deputies trying to carry out judicial orders to remove firearms where domestic problems have arisen.
Voters approved the sale of an out-of-the-way woodlot of about 105 acres on Snell Hill with the intent of using the proceeds to help renovate the Boofy Quimby Memorial Center on Route 219 in North Turner, a decades-old building that needs a substantial overhaul.
Schaub said the town has about $40,000 set aside for the project so far. He anticipates it will cost between $100,000 and $150,000 to complete.
"The community really wants to see that happen," Schaub said.
Residents also authorized the Board of Selectmen to sell the Natural History Club premises, which includes a little white cape built in 1930 at 442 Turner Center Road.
Schaub said the town may sell the building, which needs a lot of work, or it may wind up tearing it down and keeping the 1.6 acres it sits on as part of an effort to maintain the character of its neighborhood.