Plastic bag, polystyrene ban highlight Lee annual town meeting

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LEE — Lee could join Williamstown, Great Barrington, Pittsfield and 24 other Massachusetts communities that have banned single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers from retail stores and restaurants.

Voters at annual town meeting Thursday will consider two separate articles prohibiting the bags and foam receptacles at a meeting set for 7:30 p.m. at Lee Middle and High School. Voters also will consider an overall fiscal 2017 proposed operating budget of $21.5 million, up from the current $21.2 million spending plan.

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

"By adopting the bylaws, Lee — the "Gateway to the Berkshires"—will further align its policies and image with that of this very special region and with the expectations of a growing number of visitors whose hometowns are taking similar steps," Recycling Committee Chairman Peter Hofman wrote in an email.

Hofman acknowledged the arguments of opponents who say the plastic bags are reused as waste basket liners or for picking up dog feces. Opponents also note that area supermarket chains such as Big Y and Price Chopper encourage customers to recycling the bags at their stores.

Based on the committee's inaugural roadside clean-up last Saturday, the by-laws would make Lee more environmentally friendly, according to Hofman. He noted that 66 volunteers, including 40 students, collected about 200 bags of trash and recyclables. "Based upon my group's experience, I expect everyone would tell you that plastic shopping bags and polystyrene containers contribute to the litter along our roadways and byways," said Hofman.

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

The proposed operating budget of $21.5 million would result in a 28-cent increase in the tax rate, which amounts to $72 more on the average single-family homeowner's tax bill for fiscal 2017. The Board of Assessors will set the rate in the fall.

Town officials managed to keep the spending hike to 1.4 percent, in part, due to a slight — and rare — decrease in the cost of town employee health benefits, according to Town Administrator Robert Nason.

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

"If we hadn't done this, health insurance would have gone up over $300,000," he said, The health insurance increase for the current fiscal year was more than $350,000.

Voters will also be asked to approve spending from 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, 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.

The meeting will also take up a request to borrow $126,000 to replace a heating system boiler at Lee Middle and High School.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233

Lee Annual Town Meeting on Thursday will consider a ban on retail use of single-use plastic bags and foam containers. Highlights of the proposed bylaws:

POLYSTYRENE

• Consumers may use their own containers.

• Eateries are prohibited from using foam or rigid polystyrene food and drink containers.

PLASTIC BAGS

• Consumers may bring in the bags of their choice.

• Polyethylene bags are prohibited at the point of sale.

• Raw food and bulk item bags must be compostable.

• For free or a cost, high-quality, reusable bags; recyclable paper bags and cardboard boxes must be provided at checkout.

Effective date: 12 months after bylaws are approved by town meeting.

Enforcement: Tri-Town Health Department would investigate complaints of violations.

Penalties: 1st violation, warning; 2nd, $50 fine; 3rd, $100 fine; 4th and subsequent violation $200. Repeat and flagrant violations may lead to suspension, revocation or denial of town permits/licenses.


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