South Hadley TM bans plastic bags, moves town elections to September, imposes pot sale moratorium

By CAITLIN ASHWORTH

@kate_ashworth

Published: 05-11-2017 12:38 AM

SOUTH HADLEY — Retail stores can no longer supply single-use plastic bags to customer under a new measure passed by voters at Wednesday’s annual Town Meeting.

In other decisions, voters agreed to move municipal elections from April to September, put a moratorium on retail sales of recreational marijuana and signed off on a $45 million budget for fiscal 2018.

The plastic bag ban generated the most discussion at the meeting, which lasted three hours and drew about 100 people.

While the bags are commonly used by retailers, the ban would move people toward using more environmentally-friendly alternatives such as reusable, compostable or biodegradable bags, according to the measure.

The warrant approved states that the ban “protects the environment, advances solid waste reduction, reduces the number of greenhouse gas emissions, and protects waterways.”

The moratorium on retail sales of recreational marijuana will last until July 1, 2018, giving town officials time to put in place appropriate zoning, health regulations or other protections for the sale of recreational cannabis.

Select Board member Ira J. Brezinsky said the moratorium will allow the town “to continue to take a breather until we and the state can determine exactly what regulations are to be part of the state level and subsequently on a local level.”

Voters also approved a $45 million budget for fiscal 2018, which begins July 1. That’s 2 percent more than the current fiscal year, an increase being driven in part by an expected $450,000 jump in health insurance costs.

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“We saw almost a 10 percent increase in our premiums,” Select Board member John R. Hine said.

The police budget is up $103,000 as part of a collective bargaining agreement and there was a $60,000 increase for veterans services.

An appropriation of $78,861 was approved to fund the Gaylord Memorial Library under the memorandum of agreement which was passed at the January special Town Meeting when residents approved integrating Gaylord with the South Hadley Public Library.

The goal of moving municipal elections to September is twofold — to draw more people to cast a ballot and save money.

“We’ve had an abysmal turnout at our municipal elections,” Hine said. “Fourteen percent this past municipal election when we have contested races — the School Committee, the Select Board, the Board of Health.”

Town officials also said changing the day voters cast their ballots would save money as every other year the election would line up with gubernatorial or presidential primaries.

Other approved articles include the creation of a general bylaw to allow the town’s police department to fingerprint applicants for ice cream vendor permits and check their criminal history, and the appropriation of $15,000 as a grant match for the ValleyBike Share — a bicycle sharing project by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission expected to launch Spring 2018.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.

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