CHINA NEWS: Selectmen pay bills; seek office secretary

by Mary Grow

Three China selectmen met briefly Wednesday morning, June 14, primarily to approve the biweekly payroll and pay other bills.

Joann Austin, Irene Belanger and Jeffrey LaVerdiere also talked about beaver control to protect the north entrance road into Thurston Park and about the need for more volunteers for town committees.

The budget committee needs a secretary, who can live anywhere in town (the committee chairman is also from the town at large, and four other members represent four geographic districts). Residents interested in helping plan China Community Days and town-wide economic development are invited to volunteer for what used to be one committee and, selectmen have indicated, will become two separate committees.

Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said the selectmen’s meeting was rescheduled from the usual Monday evening to Wednesday morning to accommodate board Chairman Neil Farrington and member Ronald Breton, who were not available Monday, June 12. Neither was at the June 14 meeting.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting ought to be Monday evening, June 26, unless board members again change the schedule.

CHINA NEWS: Agencies agree on reimbursement plan

by Mary Grow

At a special meeting June 8, China selectmen listened to suggestions from three representatives of the town’s four emergency services, made two minor revisions to a draft memorandum of understanding between the town and the services and unanimously approved the memorandum.

The point of the memorandum is to express agreement on a reimbursement plan for fire and rescue personnel, as authorized at the March town meeting.  Or, as the lawyer-written memorandum describes its purpose:  “to identify how the town would contribute financially to the collective effort of the emergency services departments in China to increase membership numbers and also to incent participation of membership in response to incidents, participation in ‘in house’ training offerings, engaging in after incident reloading and refueling and other duties assigned.”

The memorandum goes on to the make it clear that the town does not run the emergency services.  “Each department is independent; each of the departments will be controlling how the volunteers for the respective departments do their work.”

The reimbursement program is on a one-year trial basis, beginning July 1, with a six-months’ review by selectmen in consultation with emergency services chiefs.   The $40,000 voters appropriated in March sets a ceiling for the town’s 2017-18 contribution.   If the next fiscal year does not see more recruits or higher participation at fires and rescue calls, China Village Fire Chief Timothy Theriault has said he will not support another year of stipends.

The accompanying reimbursement plan sets hourly pay at $10 per hour, with additional stipends for the four chiefs and their assistants, deputies and other officers.  (ep)

Disbursements will be twice a year, in response to reports on hours worked from each service.  Recipients will be responsible for paying income taxes.

South China Fire Chief Richard Morse, backed by Theriault, said references to officers’ discretion allows paying a flat fee for some of the work firefighters do as part of their duties, like snowblowing station entrances.  The two chiefs also want to be able to use stipends for occasional out-of-town training sessions; selectmen added that provision.

Morse and Theriault strongly supported extra pay for deputy and assistant chiefs, a clause in the reimbursement plan but not in the memorandum.  They pointed out that if the chief were absent from a fire or accident scene, the next officer in line would have the responsibility to make what could be life-or-death decisions.

Selectman approved another amendment allowing annual stipends for officers other than the four chiefs, as defined by the services.

Morse had serious reservations about the whole memorandum with “all these whereases and bureaucracy.”  Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux replied there are two reasons to supplement the reimbursement plan with a formal agreement, which, he pointed out, says pretty much the same thing as the plan:

  • When the current selectmen and emergency services chiefs leave office, the memorandum will guide their successors.
  • The memorandum makes clear what both sides want clear to state and federal officials: emergency services personnel are not town employees. In addition to Morse and Theriault, the June 8 special meeting was attended by David Herard, representing China Rescue and the Weeks Mills Fire Department.  The memorandum designates as “lead people” responsible for carrying it out Morse, Theriault, Herard for China Rescue and Weeks Mills Chief Webb Shaw.   An authorized official from each of the four services needs to sign it.

Vassalboro News: Planners rule boat landing work as maintenance

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members agreed unanimously that the planned reconstruction of the China Lake boat landing in East Vassalboro can be considered maintenance for which no permit is needed, rather than expansion.

At a short June 6 meeting, five board members and Codes Officer Richard Dolby reviewed A. E. Hodsdon Engineers’ application for half an hour, squinting at 8-1/2-inch by 11-inch diagrams and wishing the engineering firm had sent a representatives with full-scale plans.   They concluded the reconstruction will involve a new concrete abutment, additional gravel and crushed stone and new, stronger cement bars that should create a longer-lasting ramp.

Board members expect the work will be done after the fall drawdown of China Lake.  Their vote to define the project as maintenance included the condition that the engineers notify residents before the ramp is closed for the work, so boats can be hauled out for the winter.

At their June 5 town meeting, Vassalboro voters approved using $28,700 in previously-appropriated funds as matching money to go with state contributions to the reconstruction.  The second application on the June 6 planning board agenda, involving a minor change to a subdivision on Trisha Lane, was not ready for submission, Dolby told board members. Since the first Tuesday in July is Independence Day, the July planning board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, July 11.

China residents approve ban on marijuana

by Mary Grow

China voters approved every question on every ballot at the polls June 13.

Their votes were decisive only on three town questions, one new ordinance and two expenditures.  According to Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood, those results were as follows:

  • In favor of a new ordinance that will ban all retail marijuana operations, as defined in the state-wide referendum question voters approved in November 2016, 193 yes to 172 no.
  • In favor of spending up to $25,000 for a well and septic system for the former portable classroom where the vote was held, 245 yes to 120 no.
  • In favor of spending $12,000 to buy a lot on Alder Park Road adjoining other town-owned land, 203 yes to 163 no.

The ordinance was the most controversial question, with Selectman Joann Austin and others arguing that the town should not ban possible new businesses.  The state allows commercial marijuana growing and testing and marijuana social clubs.  State law gives municipalities the option of limiting or prohibiting such operations.

Ordinance supporters countered that most large-scale marijuana operations would be owned by out-of-state corporations and would export profits.   They reminded opponents that a majority of China voters voted against the November referendum question.

China’s ordinance does not prohibit individual use as allowed by state law, nor does it affect medical marijuana.

On the rest of the ballots, China voters approved a state-wide bond issue question and two Regional School Unit 18 expenditures, the 2017-18 school budget and borrowing for repairs to China Middle School, China Primary School and Belgrade Central School.

The RSU 18 questions were also on ballots in Belgrade, Oakland, Rome and Sidney.

Titus re-elected Titus re-elected in Vassalboro

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro voters re-elected Selectman Lauchlin Titus for another three-year term in the only contest on the June 13 local election ballot.

Titus received 191 votes to challenger Larisa Batchelder’s 56.

In other election results, according to Town Clerk Cathy Coyne:

  • Rebecca Goodrich, running unopposed for the Sanitary District Board of Trustees, was elected with 217 votes. Numerous other people got one, two or three votes for the other open seat on the board.

For two three-year terms on the School Board, Erin Libby Loiko was reelected with 208 votes.  Among write-in candidates, incumbent Susan Tuthill received seven votes, more than anyone else.

  • Jessica Clark was elected with 212 votes for a two-year term on the School Board, finishing a term from which two previous board members resigned.  (ep)

Voters re-endorsed the 2017-18 school budget approved at their June 5 open meeting by a large margin, 208 in favor to 46 opposed.

China Planning board meeting canceled

The China Planning Board meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening June 13, has been canceled.

CHINA NEWS: Thurston Park work awarded to Palermo company

by Mary Grow

China selectmen took care of miscellaneous business at their May 31 meeting, including:

  • Finishing the awarding of bids for work on the north entrance road to Thurston Park, started at their May 15 meeting, by awarding the bid for road improvements to S. D. Childs, of Palermo. On May 15 selectmen were not sure his bid and Robin Tobey’s covered the same work; after Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said they did, the board voted 4-1, with Joann Austin opposed, to accept Childs’ low bid. Board members expressed appreciation to Tobey for assistance he has given the Thurston Park II Committee.
  • Approving a $300 appropriation for trapping out the beavers whose debris under the bridge on the way to the park has flooded the road. Thurston Park II Committee member Jeanette Smith said a public tour of the park is scheduled for Saturday, June 17, so restoring access was imperative. • Appointing Sheldon and Joyce Goodine as members of the China for a Lifetime Committee, which is scheduled to meet Thursday evening, June 22.
  • Seeking volunteers for other positions, including budget committee secretary (who can be chosen from anywhere in town), members of the committee to plan and supervise China Community Days Aug. 4-6 and people to do trail work in Thurston Park.
  • Approving a liquor license renewal for the China Dine-ah, on Lakeview Drive. • Agreeing to give the owner of a foreclosed property additional time to redeem it by paying all back taxes and fees, after L’Heureux explained that the bank holding the mortgage had been expected to pay the town but had not.

Approving a consent agreement, including a fine, recommended by Codes Office Paul Mitnik to allow a resident to use the addition to his house even though the resident failed to comply with state-required inspection rules.

Board members did not proceed with plans for administering the stipends for emergency services personnel approved at the March town meeting, because they were waiting for advice from Town Attorney Alton Stevens. They had an estimate for repairs to the Weeks Mills schoolhouse, now a town-owned historic building, but took no action. They heard resident Dale Worster’s repeat request that they activate the town’s Economic Development Committee and assigned the task to L’Heureux.

TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee member Tom Michaud said the committee hoped to have an RFP (request for proposals) ready for review and recommendation at a June 5 meeting, so selectmen can begin choosing a contractor for planned recreational improvements at the head of China Lake’s east basin.

The May 31 selectmen’s meeting was attended by members of the Greater Neck Road Neighborhood Association, who asked selectmen to ban parties in Parris and Catherine Varney’s barn at 701 Neck Road. The town planning board denied the Varneys’ application to use their barn for commercial events in October 2016; the Varneys appealed to the board of appeals, who in December 2016 remanded the issue to the planning board to redo with clear explanations for its decision. Before the planning board could act, neighbors, including Greater Neck Road Association members, filed an appeal with Kennebec County Superior Court, which had not acted as of May 31.

Association members alleged the Varneys are holding events in the barn without the needed permit and in violation of state Fire Marshal’s regulations. They asked selectmen to enforce the town ordinance. Selectmen, L’Heureux and Mitnik declined to act at the May 31 meeting, on four grounds: • Board Chairman Neil Farrington did not want to discuss the issue without advance notice (it was not on the May 31 agenda), in the absence of the Varneys and before the court acted. He expects the court to return the question to the planning board, not to the selectmen.

  • Selectman Jeffrey LaVerdiere questioned whether the Varneys’ activities constitute a business; if they do not, he defended residents’ right to use their own property as they choose.
  • L’Heureux said after the town received a request for enforcement action from the association, he sent it to attorney Stevens to determine the proper legal response. Until he has Stevens’ reply, he said, the issue should not be on the selectmen’s agenda. • Mitnik said from what he has been told, the barn parties are for Varney friends and family and are non-commercial. “If you have to have a planning board permit to have a party for friends and family, that’s a pretty sad state of affairs,” he commented.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, June 12.

On Tuesday, June 13, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the former portable classroom behind the town office for voting on the RSU (Regional School Unit) #18 school budget for 2017-18 and a state bond issue.

Vassalboro News: Taxes raised by .88 mils; might be less with state funding

by Mary Grow

Hours of negotiation between budget committee and school board members and the board of selectmen paid off at the first session of Vassalboro’s town meeting June 5, as voters approved all recommended appropriations.

One resident asked how come the recommendations of the town boards were all in agreement. Budget Committee Chairman John Melrose first joked that it was because the budget committee was able to persuade selectmen the budget committee was right. More seriously, he said officials worked toward consensus, believing it to be in the town’s interest.

Lauchlin Titus, chair of the selectmen, called 2017 “one of the toughest budget sessions I think I’ve ever been involved in.”

Currently, voters have raised their tax rate by 0.88 mils (88 cents for each $1,000 of valuation). However, town officials and state Representative Richard Bradstreet expect the final increase to be less, because they expect more state funding for schools than in the budget the legislature is now reviewing.

To cover the expected change, a new 2017-18 school budget article says that if state school funding is higher than expected, the additional money will be used to lower taxes, up to the $338,681 coming from the town in the budget approved at the meeting. When Larisa Batchelder asked about postponing a vote on the school budget until the legislature and governor approve state funding, Selectman Philip Haines said a later town vote would require a special town meeting, with a quorum requirement that might be hard to meet in the summer. Town officials expect a final figure in July. In 2016, selectmen set the tax rate at their Aug. 8 meeting.

Town meeting continues on Tuesday, June 13, with local elections and a written-ballot vote to approve or reject the school budget. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the town office.

Voters at the June 5 open meeting agreed to group multiple articles together, including the municipal government appropriation and the school appropriation, sparing the need for Moderator Richard Thompson to read each item separately. With only a few questions and comments from the 120 or more voters assembled, the meeting lasted less than two hours.

In addition to authorizing 2017-18 spending, voters approved an amended Shoreland Zoning Ordinance and a revised Sanitary District Charter; allowed selectmen to apply for state aid to rebuild the East Vassalboro boat launch; approved exercising the “put option” with the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC); and elected five budget committee members.

The PERC article was followed by an explanation that a voter suggested was not entirely clear. Town Manager Mary Sabins explained in a sentence: when Vassalboro agreed to send its trash to PERC years ago, the town bought part ownership in the company, and now PERC is buying back Vassalboro’s shares for an expected $13,514.13. Donald Breton, William Browne, Peggy Schaffer and Eddie Scholz were re-elected to the budget committee for two years, and Phil Landry defeated Holly Weidner by four votes for the seat vacated by Lori Fowle. The complete town meeting warrant is in the 2016 town report, which is dedicated to the late Jim Mitchell. Mitchell also received a posthumous Spirit of America award, accepted by his widow, Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell, and other family members.

Weeks Mills VFD brings home new pumper

The town purchased the new (to the WMVFD) truck for $50,000 to replace WMVFD Truck #72. The funds for the new truck were approved at a recent select board meeting at the request of the officers of the department and the funds were appropriated out of the Fire Department Reserve Account in the town’s Fund Balance. Voters have annually approved of appropriating funds to that reserve account for long term fire department capital needs. This mini-pumper will better serve the current and future needs of the department.

The truck is a 2008 Ford F450 Super Duty Two Door 4×4 Mini Pumper and has a Pierce aluminum body. It is powered by a 6.4L 325 HP V8 diesel engine. It had 12,647 miles on it when picked-up. William Van Wickler and Dean Sheaff, of the Weeks Mills Volunteer Fire Department, drove to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to inspect and operate the vehicle before taking possession and returning to China. The Rohrestown Fire Department in Lancaster was the seller.

CHINA NEWS: Planners adopt mission statement

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members adopted a mission statement and approved an application at their May 23 meeting, both by unanimous votes.

The application approval allows William Pettipas, of New England Imports, 632 Lakeview Drive, to add a 20-by-40-foot bay on his existing commercial garage. Board members had no comments from neighbors; they decided an expansion of an existing business with no changes affecting the neighborhood did not need a public hearing. Before the meeting several board members researched mission statements and three prepared drafts for the China board. The agreed-upon version, based primarily on a draft by Tom Miragliuolo, reads: “It is the mission of the China Planning Board to balance public and private needs while promoting development which integrates environmental protection and community economic goals.”

Board members asked Codes Officer Paul Mitnik to print the statement on future agendas, both as a guide and to give them a chance to reconsider and amend it if necessary.

The next China Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, June 13.