China Planners begin work on potential ordinance changes

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members started working on potential ordinance amendments at an Oct. 10 workshop meeting.

Retiring board Chairman James Wilkens brought copies of the first few pages of four other towns’ ordinance definitions, covering those beginning with the first two letters of the alphabet. Board members reviewed China’s parallel definitions.

They proposed no major changes. As the meeting wound down, they talked about adding new definitions, including “Airbnb,” “adult business” and “boathouse,” but made no decisions.

They also considered deleting one or two definitions, either because they might be obsolete or because they seemed irrelevant to China’s ordinance and to past and potential land use issues in town.

Codes Officer Paul Mitnik said he reviewed the entire definitions section in China’s land use ordinance and found fewer than half a dozen possible places to amend, mostly minor.

Any ordinance changes require voter approval. Planners have not decided when they will be ready to ask selectmen to schedule a vote if they do recommend amendments.

Board members plan to continue ordinance review at future meetings. Their next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Oct. 24.

CHINA: Beauty salon gets OK from planners

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members unanimously approved the only application on their Sept. 26 agenda, giving Randy Pottle permission to open a two-chair beauty salon in part of an existing garage at 650 Route 3. Approval comes with two conditions, both of which Pottle said he will meet: the wall separating the beauty salon from the garage must meet the state fire code, and the septic system is to be upgraded.

Pottle told board members there are no residences close enough to the building for people to be disturbed by the minimal changes the project will create, like slightly increased traffic.

In other business, board members and Codes Officer Paul Mitnik briefly continued their ongoing discussions of potential ordinance amendments and board procedures, but with only three board members present, they postponed decisions.

The next planning board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Oct. 10.

Transfer station presents five year plan

by Mary Grow

China’s Transfer Station Committee presented a five-year plan for transfer station improvements to the board of selectmen at the Oct. 2 selectmen’s meeting.

Committee Chairman Frank Soares said the committee recommends one major expenditure to be proposed to voters at the March 2018 town business meeting, a request for about $32,000 for a new forklift. The forklift now in use is old – Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said the town bought it used five or six years ago – and getting decrepit, Soares said. The committee recommends buying a new, larger one. For 2019, the committee plan suggests buying a second hopper to be used primarily to compact demolition debris and large items like mattresses and a new tractor to be shared with the Public Works Department for snowblowing, mowing and sweeping. Committee members further recommend an addition on the main transfer station building to create more recycling space.

Soares said the plan will be revised annually, so after the first year or two it should be considered tentative.

The Oct. 2 selectmen’s meeting included two public hearings. The first, on three local ballot questions, drew a small audience and a few questions; the second, on amendments to the maximum amounts allowed as general assistance, brought no comments.

The Nov. 7 local ballot questions ask voters to:

  • Appropriate up to $8,500 from surplus to build a fire pond on Neck Road;
  • Approve a requirement that non-profit organizations requesting town funds provide current financial statements for the selectmen and budget committee to review; and
  • Authorize selectmen to rent out space on the town’s communications tower at the town office.

In response to questions about the fire pond, Codes Officer Paul Mitnik said it does not need approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection, and Selectman Neil Farrington said willing landowners are cooperating; the town is not using eminent domain.

The town’s tower might be competing with privately-owned towers in the area, but, Farrington said, usually location is a major consideration when companies seek to rent tower space; if the town’s provides coverage where they need coverage, it would be preferred, but not otherwise.

Selectmen have not discussed what to charge or other details, since they need voter approval to proceed.

Voters will also elect town officials on Nov. 7, selectmen and planning board and budget committee members. There are contests for three openings on the Board of Selectmen and for the District 1 Planning Board seat (northwestern quarter of town). Mitnik attended the Oct. 2 selectmen’s meeting to present three enforcement issues to the board. Selectmen accepted his recommendations on two, granting an extension of time to finish cleaning up a Route 32 North property and approving a consent agreement, with fine, concerning a garage foundation on Fire Road 4 that was put in without the required inspection. They postponed action on the third, on Dirigo Road, because it has been referred to the Board of Appeals.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, Oct. 16.

Vassalboro voters to fill vacant selectmen’s position

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro voters will choose a new member of the Board of Selectmen at the polls on Nov. 7.

Following the death of Board Chairman Philip Haines, Lauchlin Titus and Robert Browne met in special session Sept. 27 and agreed on a shortened nomination process and a Nov. 7 election.

Nomination papers were available Monday morning, Oct. 2, and signed papers are due at the town office by 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, for candidates’ names to appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Whoever is elected will serve the remainder of Haines’ term, until the June 2018 elections.

Town Manager Mary Sabins told selectmen they had three options, under state law:

  • The special shorter nomination process that she recommended and board members chose;
  • A special election, probably in December, after a normal nomination process; or • A two-man board until regular elections in June 2018.

A special election would be a special town meeting, whether it is on Nov. 7 or in December, and under a local regulation would require a quorum of at least 125 voters. Sabins was not sure 125 people would come to the polls only to elect a selectman, especially in December; she thought it more likely that the requirement could be met Nov. 7.

As long as there are only two selectmen, neither can miss a meeting, since a majority of the three-person board must be present to conduct business.

The regular selectmen’s meeting Oct. 5 has been canceled. The next selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, Oct. 19.

MEA scores up from last year in area schools

DOE commissioner: “Results are very encouraging.”

 by Mary Grow

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) recently released results of Maine Education Assessment (MEA) tests for the 2016-17 school year. The state tests students in three areas, English language arts/literacy, math and science, with science tests beginning with fifth-graders.

According to DOE information, scores went up in all three areas in 2016-17 compared to the previous year, the first time the 2016/17 tests were used. The department’s press release said last year, 52.58 percent of students tested scored above state expectations in ELA/literacy; 38.54 percent exceeded expectations in math; and 61.07 percent exceeded expectations in science. The comparable figures for 2015-16 were 50.58 percent in ELA/literacy, 38.31 percent in math and 60.97 percent in science.

Below are selected figures from the state report that might interest The Town Line readers. The full report is available on line from the state education department.

Science tests were not given in two schools listed below, China Primary School and the George J. Mitchell School, in Waterville, which have only younger students. In two cases, an asterisk replaced numbers; the education department website appears to indicate that data was withheld to protect student privacy. All figures are percentages compared to state expectations.

  • China Middle School: ELA/literacy 50.81; math 32.97; science 61.54;
  • China Primary School: ELA/literacy 41.00; math 39.00; science not tested;
  • Erskine Academy: ELA/literacy 62.68; math 37.32; science 50.34;
  • Messalonskee High School: ELA/literacy 49.43; math 31.61; science 43.64;
  • Vassalboro Community School: ELA/literacy 57.63; math 50.19; science 62.77;
  • George J. Mitchell School, Waterville: ELA/literacy 30.47; math 36.72; science not tested
  • Albert S. Hall School, Waterville: ELA/literacy 54.36; math 37.34; science 65.12
  • Waterville Junior High School: ELA/literacy 46.70; math 32.24; science 54.46
  • Waterville Senior High School: ELA/literacy 59.66; math 32.77; science 53.78
  • Winslow Elementary School: ELA/literacy 48.46; math 27.31; science 57.53;
  • Winslow Junior High School: ELA/literacy 48.64; math 29.30; science 62.50;
  • Winslow High School: ELA/literacy 57.55; math 28.80; science 47.62;
  • Palermo Consolidated School: ELA/literacy 51.85; math 37.04; an asterisk for science;
  • Windsor Elementary School: ELA/literacy 47.74; math 31.16; science 70.13;
  • Lawrence Junior High School: ELA/literacy 42.72; math 33.64; science 65.41
  • Lawrence High School: ELA/literacy 53.74; math 43.54; science 52.03
  • Snow Pond Arts Academy, Sidney: an asterisk for ELA/literacy; math 37.50; science 62.50.

Related Stories: Maine students improve on state assessments

CHINA: Eight vie for three seats on board of selectmen

by Mary Grow

China voters have three contests and four vacancies on the Nov. 7 local election ballot.

There are a total of eight candidates for three seats on the Board of Selectmen. For the two-year terms currently held by Irene Belanger and Ronald Breton, Belanger and Breton are running for re-election and Frederick Glidden and former Selectman Robert MacFarland are also on the ballot.

For a one-year position to finish Joann Austin’s term there are four candidates, Wayne Chadwick, Randall Downer, Ralph Howe and Donna Mills-Stevens.

For the planning board, Steven Hadsell and Kevin Michaud seek the District 1 seat for which Board Chairman James Wilkens did not file nomination papers.

There are no candidates on the ballot for the Planning Board District 3 seat (currently held by Milton Dudley; Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood said his nomination papers did not have enough valid signatures for his name to be on the ballot) or the alternate at-large position (currently held by Ralph Howe).

For the Budget Committee, Robert Batteese and Kevin Maroon are unopposed for re-election as chairman and District 1 representative, respectively. There is no candidate for the District 3 seat currently held by Sheryl Peavey.

China voters also have three local referendum questions asking if they want to pay up to $8,500 for a new fire pond on Neck Road; require nonprofit organizations seeking town funds to provide current financial statements; and authorize town officials to rent space on the communications tower by the town office.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 7 in the former portable classroom beside the town office.

Possible school reorganization topic at meeting in Vassalboro

by Mary Grow

The possibility of another school reorganization that will affect Vassalboro was again a major topic of discussion at the Sept. 19 school board meeting.

Years ago Vassalboro was a separate school entity. Then it became part of School Union #52 with China and Winslow. School Union #52 dissolved after a state-wide reorganization under 2007 legislation; Vassalboro, Winslow and Waterville became AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) #92, with headquarters in Waterville, while China joined the Oakland-based Messalonskee group in RSU (Regional School Unit) #18.

At the Vassalboro board’s August and September meetings, Superintendent Eric Haley explained that Governor Paul LePage wants to create School Management and Leadership Centers (SMLCs) that would take over business management for significant numbers of schools. The new centers would assume responsibility for such services as payroll, accounts receivable, transportation coordination and professional development.

To encourage schools to create the consolidated centers, Haley said, the governor’s budget cuts state reimbursement to central offices like AOS #92’s, planning to reduce it annually until in 2021 members of RSUs and AOSs pay the entire administrative cost with local funds.

Between the August and September Vassalboro meetings, Haley and other AOS #92 officials went to a conference on SMLCs sponsored by the Maine School Management Association and the Portland-based law firm Drummond Woodsum.

Haley told the Vassalboro board that most attendees went to the conference eager to compete to set up as SMLCs. They left saying “no way,” primarily because the conference sponsors advised caution and waiting to see what happens.

“It was just amazing how everyone flipped on this,” Haley commented.

He pointed out that so far there is no detailed plan for SMLCs. He doubts any school group will be able to create an SMLC by the current July 1, 2018, deadline. Any organizational change would require a plan that gained approval from the state Department of Education and from local voters, Haley said.

As in August, board members tried with limited success to foresee what effect potential changes could have on the quality of education in Vassalboro and the cost to taxpayers.

For example, Haley said state officials see the SMLC heads more as business executives than as educators. Schools like Vassalboro would need their own superintendent, either one person doubling as principal and superintendent or a part-time superintendent in addition to the principal.

Vassalboro Community School Principal Dianna Gram doubts one person could be both principal and superintendent. There’s too much for the principal to do daily in the school for him or her to have other responsibilities, in her opinion.

Another issue is what, if anything, SMLCs would do to correct what Haley and Finance Director Paula Pooler see as too many burdens on central office staff. Haley said that they often cannot meet all the requests from three municipalities as fast as local officials would like; an SMLC office would presumably serve 10 or more municipalities.

The reorganization issue will continue to appear on Vassalboro School Board agendas.

In other business Sept. 19, board members unanimously approved a list of appointments that included Jasmine Estes as a first-grade teacher, Katie Esancy and Melissa LeHay as educational technicians and James Pinkham as a bus driver.

The next Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Oct. 17.

Vassalboro Selectmen deal with variety of topics

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen dealt with a miscellany of business at their Sept. 21 meeting, most of it presented by Town Manager Mary Sabins.

Sabins reported on various upcoming events, including tentative plans for FAVOR (Friends Advocating for Vassalboro Older Residents) to provide help with drafty windows through a nonprofit organization called Window Dressers.

Sabins said the Rockland-based program helps local residents learn how to measure windows and make inserts to stop drafts and save heat. The inserts are sold to homeowners able to pay for them; Window Dressers’ website lists prices varying with window size and materials. Subsidies are likely to be available for low-income residents, Sabins said.

FAVOR committee members plan to discuss the idea at their next meeting, scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2, in the town office. Interested residents and potential volunteers are welcome to attend.

Vassalboro’s website says town residents are invited to participate in a household hazardous waste drop-off Saturday, Oct. 21, in Winslow. Interested people should call Transfer Station Manager George Hamar at 923-3051 for information and to register. (ep)

Two events are scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 28, one for cat and dog owners and one for people needing safe disposal for private documents.

Windsor Veterinary Clinic will hold a low-cost rabies clinic from noon to 1 p.m. at the North Vassalboro fire station on Route 32. Cats and dogs can get rabies shots for $15. Dog licenses will be available for people whose dogs are not yet licensed for 2017; the cost is $6 for dogs who have been spayed or neutered and $11 for those who have not.

On Oct. 28 from 8 a.m. to noon, China will host a shredding on site program at the China Public Works garage, on Alder Park Road. Vassalboro selectmen agreed by consensus to pay the requested $100 to let Vassalboro residents participate.

In other business Sept. 21, selectmen held a very short unattended public hearing on amendments to the General Assistance Ordinance appendices and afterward approved the changes.

After Sabins explained new software and training needed to do the bookkeeping required by the town’s auditors, selectmen voted unanimously to authorize the expenditures. Sabins estimated the software will cost $1,500, plus $600 annual maintenance and about $800 for training.

She said two auditors had spent the week reviewing town records. The final report will not be available until school figures, audited by a different company, are available. Selectmen authorized Codes Officer Richard Dolby to institute legal action against the owner of a medical marijuana operation close to Vassalboro Community School. Sabins said Dolby reported the owner has not cooperated with his attempts to determine whether the facility conforms to state requirements.

Selectmen approved an application from a catering service to serve liquor at an Oct. 14 event in North Vassalboro.

Sabins reported the Vassalboro Historical Society declined the town’s offer to sell the former East Vassalboro School to the society for $1. Society officials prefer to continue to lease the building. Sabins will draft a revised lease to clarify maintenance responsibilities.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, Oct. 5.

Board unanimously approves library move

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members have unanimously approved the first steps in the South China Library’s plan to open a new building in a new location.

Jean Dempster, president of the library Board of Trustees, explained the project at the board’s Sept. 12 meeting.

The library, currently located on a very small lot on Village Street opposite the South China church, will be moved to a 4.75-acre lot on Jones Road, sharing it with the 1815 Rufus Jones birth-place, one of several China buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Downhill from the Jones house, Dempster said, library trustees plan to create a new driveway and parking lot; put the former portable classroom acquired from the Town of China on a cement slab; build an addition on the portable building; and move part of the existing library building to the new site. Planning board members voted unanimously to waive a public hearing. Reviewing the town’s criteria for such a project, they found the application met them all and approved it after half an hour’s review.

Dempster said water will come from the existing drilled well and an appropriate septic system will be installed so the library will finally have plumbing. The new parking lot will accommodate 16 vehicles, including two handicapped spaces. The building will have a permit from the state fire marshal and will meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

She told board members the trustees hope to do the driveway and site preparation this fall; the slab might be postponed to spring, depending on workers’ availability and weather.

In the future, she said, trustees hope to revive the Jones house as a historic site.

A second applicant on the Sept. 12 planning board agenda did not attend the meeting, so the application was not reviewed. In the absence of Chairman Jim Wilkens, board members postponed decisions on the ordinance amendments and procedural issues they have been discussing.

Codes Officer Paul Mitnik said he received an exploratory phone call about possible construction of a Dollar General store at the intersection of Route 3 and Windsor Road, near the South China Hannaford. He emphasized there is no definite proposal.

The next China Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Sept. 26.

Selectmen reduce ballot questions to three

by Mary Grow

China selectmen cut the Nov. 7 local ballot from four questions to three at their Sept. 18 meeting, postponing the proposed Local Food Safety Ordinance to the March 2018 town business meet-ing.

Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux expects the state legislature will amend the state law on which the local ordinance is to be based. He therefore recommended waiting until the state law is final so the local ordinance will conform.

In addition to local elections, China voters will decide at the polls whether to:

  • approve a statement requiring nonprofit organizations seeking town funds to provide financial statements;
  • expend up to $8,500 from sur-plus for a fire pond on Neck Road;
  • authorize selectmen to lease space on the town-owned com-munications tower behind the town office building; and
  • approve a Regional School Unit (RSU) #18 bond issue for building improvements and repairs.

Candidates for positions on the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board and Budget Committee have until 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, to return signed nomination papers to the town office to get their names on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The selectmen’s Oct. 2 meeting will be preceded by two public hearings. The first, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the town office meeting room, will be on the three local ballot questions. The second, tentatively scheduled for 6:55 p.m. and expected to be brief, will be the annual public hearing on amendments to the General Assistance Ordinance.

RSU #18 officials will hold public hearings on the bond issue in four of the five member towns. China’s hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m., Monday, Oct. 23, at China Middle School.

Also likely to be on the China selectmen’s Oct. 2 agenda are a presentation from Transfer Station Committee Chairman Frank Soares on the committee’s five-year capital plan and two code enforcement issues.

In other business Sept. 18, selectmen unanimous approved the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee’s recommenda-tion to hire Wright-Pierce Engineering for preliminary work on a new causeway bridge at the head of China Lake’s east basin and authorized L’Heureux to sign an agreement with the firm.

Selectman and TIF Committee member Irene Belanger said the committee authorized re-estab-lishing a temporary committee to look for a site for a China Lake public beach. Volunteers for that committee and for the China Bicentennial Committee should contact the town office.

Selectmen made two committee appointments, approving Jean Conway as secretary of the budget committee until November 2018 elections and Tom Rumpf as a member of the Revolving Loan Fund Committee. The latter group reviews applications for the revolving loan fund for town businesses set up by the TIF Committee.

Belanger announced two upcoming special waste disposal options for China residents. On Saturday, Oct. 21, Winslow holds its annual household hazardous waste disposal day at the Public Works Department on Halifax Street. Pre-registration is required through the China trans-fer station; information on acceptable waste will be avail-able there and at the town office.

On Saturday, Oct. 28, China will host Shredding on Site, from 8 a.m. to noon, at the public works garage just west of the transfer station and a drug take-back program from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the transfer station.

L’Heureux reported representa-tives of The Town Line newspa-per inspected the old town house basement and found it potentially suitable for a relocated office. Selectmen and contractor Robert MacFarland discussed work still to be done to prepare the base-ment for renting.

Selectman Ronald Breton expressed his disappointment that no one from RSU #18 reported to the town on the recent water back-up that closed China Middle School for a few days, or on other school issues.

“We never hear from them,” he said of China’s RSU board representatives, Dawn Castner and Charles Clark.

After the selectmen’s meeting, board members reconvened in their capacity as assessors to act on recommendations from town assessor William Van Tuinen. The Oct. 2 meeting will probably be followed by another assessors’ meeting, as board members found they lacked information on one request for a change in valu-ation and want to hear from Van Tuinen and the property owner.