Lee Town Meeting OKs ban on foam and plastic bags, approves budget


LEE — Lee has become the latest Berkshire community to ban local retailers and restaurants from using foam containers and single-use plastics bags.

Annual town meeting representatives on Thursday unanimously backed a measure ridding stores of the polystyrene receptacles, but they were a bit divided, 29-17, in backing the plastic bag bylaw.

If upheld by the state Attorney General's Office, which reviews all bylaws, the ban would take effect a year from now.

Lee would join Williamstown, Great Barrington, Pittsfield and 24 other Massachusetts communities that have banned either item or both from stores and eateries.

Voters gathered at Lee Middle and High School also passed an overall fiscal 2017 operating budget of $21.5 million, up from the current $21.2 million spending plan.

The $300,000 increase is expected to translate into an estimated 28 cent hike on the tax rate. If the Board of Assessors approves that rate hike amount later this fall, the average single-family homeowner will pay an additional $72 in property taxes in the fiscal year starting July 1.

The plastic bag ban generated all the debate of the two bylaws, as has been the case since the two prohibitions were first discussed in late January.

Proponents, led by Lee Recycling Committee Chairman Peter Hofman, see the bags along with the foam containers, as a significant contributor to the town's litter problem.

"These two products have health impacts, environmental impacts and waste disposal impacts," he said, toward the end of the three-hour meeting.

William Brunell was among the voters who felt the plastic bag ban would hurt local businesses.

"I think it will be detrimental to Price Chopper and Big Y," he said, referring to the two supermarket chains in town.

The Lee Recycling Committee, working with the Tri-Town Health Department, developed the proposed plastic bag and polystyrene bylaws, which allow a yearlong phase-in period. During that time, consumers may continue to use bag/food containers of their choice.

All but one of the remaining 46 articles on the warrant involve town spending for the new fiscal year starting July 1.

The operating budget of $21.5 million reflects a mere 1.4 percent increase over the current spending plan, in part, due to a slight — and rare — decrease in the cost of town employee health benefits, according to Town Administrator Robert Nason.

Nason said a change in retirees' health benefits saved the town and the former municipal workers thousands of dollars.

Voters approved various special money articles fund through surplus cash or water/sewer user fees for:

• $177,000 toward the purchase of a new fire truck that would bring the fire truck replacement fund to $600,000, which is enough to buy one;

• $150,000 to offset the cost of bridge repairs;

• $35,000 to cover Lee's 50 percent share of buying a water valve exercise that safely opens/closes old valves. If approved, Lee would jointly purchase the equipment with Lenox.

Town Meeting also authorized municipal officials to borrow money for two capital expenditures: $200,000 to replace a public works dump truck with sander and snow plow and $126,000 to replace one of the heating system boilers at Lee Middle and High School.

Voters did postpone a decision on buying an excavator for the cemetery as Lee was to split the cost with Stockbridge, but that town has backed out of a proposed deal to share the piece of equipment.

Town Meeting's final act was to change from 7:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. the start time of future annual town meetings starting in May 2017.


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