UNITY — Residents on Saturday approved a new ordinance prohibiting the intentional release of 10 or more balloons within a 24-hour period.
The Balloon Release Ordinance was approved by about 60 residents who attended Town Meeting in a show-of-hands vote at the Unity School gymnasium.
Exceptions include balloons released for scientific or meteorological purposes, hot air balloons that are recovered after launching, balloons released indoors and balloons that are biodegradable.
Penny Sampson, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said she came up with the idea for the ordinance after seeing mass balloon releases and reading about them on Facebook.
She said people often do mass balloon releases to celebrate or memorialize something, such as a wedding or someone who has died, with the thinking they will send the balloons to heaven to remember the person.
The ban is “just one of those environmental baby steps towards more environmental protection,” she said.
“It’s not like we have a big balloon problem here in Unity, but we also wanted to sort of set a precedent, and hopefully this is something that could be passed statewide.”
The town of Unity is already well-known in environmental circles as being home to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and its annual Common Ground Country Fair, which celebrates organic living and farming.
A violation of the ordinance is punishable by a fine of $250, but Sampson said hopefully the town will not have to enforce it; and if town officials hear of a mass balloon release being planned, they can warn people in advance that it is prohibited.
“Some people were all concerned about what happens if you’re having a birthday party and the balloons, you know, happen to get away,” she said. “That’s not one of the things we’re looking to go after. It’s the organized mass balloon releases.”
In other news Saturday, Sampson said residents made only minor changes to a proposed budget that is up about $60,000 from the current $1.13 million. An exact figure for the budget approved Saturday was not immediately available.
A solid waste budget of $77,500 was approved by voters, as well as increased costs for trash stickers, which residents are required to put on each bag of trash they leave on the curb, and dumpster tipping fees.
Sampson said trash was the “hot topic” at the meeting, as the solid waste budget is up substantially from its current $35,000.
She said the reason for the increase is that the town has had a longtime contract with Sullivan’s Waste in Thorndike and the cost has not increased for about 10 years.
To help fund the increase, the cost of trash stickers will increase from $1.25 to $1.75 and dumpster tipping fees will increase from $3.75 per cubic yard to $5.25 per cubic yard.
Residents also moved to reject a proposed false fire alarm ordinance that sought to charge a fee for three or more false fire alarms during any period of 180 consecutive days.
Sampson said Fire Department members objected to the wording of the ordinance and officials will be looking at possibly re-writing it for future consideration.
In elections, Selectman Tony Avila was re-elected to a three-year term with 32 votes. The race was uncontested.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368