Voters on Saturday passed a ban on releasing 10 or more gas-filled balloons into the air. The ordinance aims to protect wildlife and reduce the litter that ensues when the lighter-than-air decorations lose their lift. Town officials say it is the only ordinance of its kind in Maine.

The proposal drew jokes and jeers at the annual town meeting, where a crowd of about 40 was in its fourth hour of debating road bonds, department budgets and trash sticker fees.

"They'll slap the cuffs on you," someone said. "Who will enforce it?" a resident asked to no one in particular. The town code enforcement officer stood. "I'm not certified to go around and check balloons and catch balloons." The room erupted in laughter, again and again. "Who started this whole idea of the balloon ordinance?" a woman said, sounding comically baffled.

Selectman Penny Sampson claimed it. "I know some of you think it's kind of funny and silly and all that," she said, "but I've been to a couple of balloon releases."

"Shame on you," a man interjected, rekindling the hilarity for a moment.

Sampson described a memorial event at Wiscassett Raceway a couple of years ago at which several hundred balloons were released, ostensibly "to heaven."

"Well you all know they really don't go to heaven," she said. "They end up on the ground somewhere."

Sampson invited residents to look at their Facebook feeds to see what happens next — birds and turtles wrapped in string, fish autopsied to reveal bellies filled with plastic. People don't consider balloon releases littering, she said, because the balloons disappear into the air.

"But if I took a couple hundred empty balloons and threw them out my car window in front of your house, I can betcha every one of you would be mad," she said.

Fire Chief Blaine Parsons argued that there are "certain circumstances" that warrant a balloon release. He referred to a memorial service for triplet boys who died in a fire in 2000.

"They liked dolphins and balloons," he said. "I'll be the first to admit, I had 100 balloons in my hand and I was the first to let them go. There are certain things you just do to honor their wishes."

Sampson acknowledged the feeling but said times have changed.

"We've learned so much about what the danger is now and about what happens to those balloons," she said. "It's different than it was then."

The ordinance passed 26-15. Sampson said Unity is the first community in Maine to pass a balloon release ordinance.

False alarms

Another ordinance aimed at discouraging frivolous emergency calls was sent back to the drawing board after residents decided the language was too vague.

Sampson said the wording was taken from an ordinance adopted by a city in New Jersey and was left unspecific to allow the Fire Department discretion to say whether a "false alarm" was in fact unnecessary.

Unity College was the biggest offender last year with 28 false alarms, according to town officials. The ordinance would have let two of those slide before charging $100 for the third false alarm, $250 for the fourth and $500 for the fifth.

"We were trying to give (the Fire Department) a tool to use," she said. "It's not perfect."

Residents opted to send it back for revisions and take it up again at a special town meeting already planned for June.

Expensive trash

Voters upped the cost of trash collection by 40 percent. Stickers are now $1.75 per bag, up from $1.25, and dumpster tipping is now $5.25 per yard, up from $3.75. The changes were meant to cover a steep increase in the town's garbage removal contract with Thorndike-based Sullivan's Waste, which went to $77,400 this year from $39,000.

Town Clerk Kari Hunt proposed rates that she anticipated would cover the difference — last year, she said, the town came up short and had to raise almost $27,000 from taxes.

Voters took her recommendation of $1.75 for bag stickers. But they balked at doubling the fee for dumpsters, as she suggested, saying it would drive people to a private service or worse, lead them to throw their trash in the woods. Ultimately residents chose to keep the percentage increase the same across the board.

Hunt said that could leave the town $10,000 short based on anticipated use. Others said the town might save on hauling if residents stopped using municipal trash collection.

In town elections, Selectman Tony Avila was re-elected to a second term.