Police chief’s job description finally approved

by Mary Grow

At their Dec. 6 meeting, Vassalboro selectmen finally approved the police chief’s job description they have been revising for the last couple months, with one final revision.

They also approved Town Manager Mary Sabins’ plan for a town staff pre-Christmas party.

Otherwise, they continued discussion of ongoing items, like emergency services dispatching, the role of the Budget Committee and potential solar power development and added a new – and expensive – topic, the Public Works Department’s aged grader and other needs.

The dispatching issue matters to emergency services in most Kennebec County municipalities because of proposed changes at the county and state level. Sabins expected to have more information for the selectmen’s Dec. 20 meeting, after a Kennebec County Commissioners’ meeting and a county town managers’ meeting at which she hopes the issue will be discussed.

At previous meetings, selectmen have been given preliminary information suggesting that in 2019-20 the cost of dispatching fire, rescue and police services could double, from about $30,000 a year to about $60,000 a year.

Public Works Foreman Eugene Field told selectmen the town’s 1991 grader needs a major repair that will cost around $23,000, plus $1,400 trucking to the repair shop, and should have another $5,000 to $10,000 worth of minor repairs while it’s being worked on.

A new grader would cost around $240,000, he said, a used one from $50,000 up, rental a little over $3,000 a week if a rental grader were available when the town crew needed it. Field and crew members use the grader for unpaved roads spring and fall, and it serves as a back-up for the plow trucks in case one breaks down.

Field also warned selectmen two large culverts need major work, either replacement or repair.

The discussion ended with selectmen commenting that Fields’ problems are even more expensive than the dispatching services they’ve been worrying about.

Budget Committee Chairman Rick Denico asked how that committee’s role is defined, pointing out that last year’s pre-town-meeting discussions strayed into policy issues, like considering whether to abolish the local police department rather than merely how much it should cost.

Vassalboro residents apparently established the committee many years ago without a job description or other rules, Sabins said.

Board member John Melrose has been looking into the possibility of installing solar panels on the roof of the Riverside Fire Station. He said he received one proposal that afternoon.

Melrose suggested selectmen ask town meeting voters for authorization to proceed with exploring the topic. If voters approve, he wants to look into more than one option, as competition appears to be developing.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, Dec. 20.

Selectmen vote to not appeal decision on property

by Mary Grow

The four China selectmen at a Dec. 5 special meeting voted unanimously not to appeal a legal decision involving a property on Three Mile Pond.

Town office staff foreclosed on the property because of unpaid 2015 taxes. Owner Stacey O’Connor filed suit claiming she was not properly notified of the impending foreclosure. Kennebec County Superior Court Justice William Stokes upheld her position.

Town Manager Dennis Heath explained to selectmen that initial notices went to an address in Maine. After O’Connor notified the town that she now lives in Arizona, a subsequent notice was sent by certified mail to her Arizona address and was returned unclaimed. Office staff therefore used the Maine address for the final notice; it too was returned to the town.

Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood testified at an earlier hearing that she also sent two notices to the Arizona address by regular mail. Neither was returned to the town. In her experience, Hapgood said, people are more likely to pick up regular mail for which they do not have to sign.

Justice Stokes, citing Maine Law Court decisions, ruled that the town should have used certified mail sent to the Arizona address, even though it appeared not to have worked, in order to satisfy legal requirements for foreclosure with the strictness required by law.

Town office staff acted in good faith, Stokes wrote. But state statute requires strict compliance, and strict compliance meant sending a notice to the last known address – Arizona – by certified mail. He therefore voided the foreclosure.

Heath said the law does not require proof that a notice was received, but merely evidence that it was sent in proper form. Henceforth, he said, town office staff will follow the form.

The manager said O’Connor will be given 30 days to redeem the property by paying 2015 taxes and charges.

Selectman Ronald Breton interrupted discussion of the O’Connor case to ask whether it was proper for board Chairman Robert MacFarland, who was absent, to have appointed Jeffrey LaVerdiere acting chairman. The board responded by electing LaVerdiere chairman for the meeting.

Since then Breton has proposed creating a selectmen’s ordinance that would cover issues like choice of a temporary chairman. Board members voted unanimously after the November election that Robert’s Rules of Order will govern their proceedings.

Selectmen adopt mailbox policy; ask for opt out on business equipment tax

by Mary Grow

China selectmen made numerous decisions as they went through a long and varied agenda at their Dec. 10 meeting, and still have topics left over for future discussion.

They unanimously adopted the mailbox policy discussed at their Nov. 26 meeting, which sets standards for placing mailboxes along state and town roads and says that if a plow truck damages a mailbox, the owner, not the town, is responsible (see this article from Nov. 29).

They unanimously approved Town Manager Dennis Heath’s wording of a resolution to the Maine legislature asking that municipalities be allowed to opt out of collecting personal property taxes on business equipment, an action authorized by voters in November (see this article from Nov. 8).

Heath’s request emphasized the personal property tax as a disincentive to business in Maine and urged legislators to promote business by amending state law to make collecting it optional.

Selectmen appointed Rebecca Hapgood to two positions that she already fills, human resources director for an indefinite term and registrar of voters for two years beginning Jan. 1, 2019.

They approved hiring Dawn Kilgore, of Sidney, as secretary to the planning board and board of appeals. Heath said Tracy Cunningham, who has been the frequently-commended planning board secretary, is resigning the position.

Selectmen reviewed Heath’s rankings of four candidates for the new position of apprentice to the codes officer and authorized him to offer the position to the highest-ranked.

The apprentice will work 18 hours a week, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, at a pay rate of $15 an hour, and will be on probation for the first six months, Heath said. When the idea of an apprentice was proposed, he or she was seen as a potential successor to Codes Officer Paul Mitnik when Mitnik is ready to retire.

Heath wants to replace the current across-the-board annual raises for town employees with merit raises and bonuses. As a step in that direction, he asked for and received selectmen’s approval for $2,400 in holiday bonuses.

The manager is also revising China’s personnel policy, with input from town employees. Selectmen scheduled a special workshop meeting on the policy changes, which need their approval, for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27.

Another change Heath recommended was sending his draft of the 2019-2020 budget to the budget committee by mid-January and having the budget committee forward it to selectmen, instead of starting with the selectmen as in past years. After discussion of the reversal and of the pre-March-town-meeting timetable, Selectman Jeffrey LaVerdiere suggested, and his colleagues and Heath agreed, that the two boards should review the proposed budget simultaneously and hope they reach the same recommendations.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is currently scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 21, because it would normally have fallen on Christmas Eve. By then Heath hopes to have more information on the extended warranty on the public works department’s new Ventrac tractor, which public works head Gary Cummings expects will be delivered before Christmas.

Fiberight recycling plant set to go online in April

Construction on the new recycling facility from earlier this year. (photo from fiberight.com)

by Eric W. Austin

For those towns waiting for the new Fiberight recycling facility in Hampden to come online, the end is nearly in sight. At an October 24 meeting with the Municipal Review Committee (MRC) Board of Directors, Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul presented a new construction schedule for the Material Recovery Facility that sees it opening in early April, nearly a year later than the original estimates.

“We’ve now issued a revised construction schedule that shows completion of construction by March 31,” said Stuart-Paul to the MRC Board in Brewer. “We’ve provided an on-boarding plan to the MRC which shows some amount of waste on a start-stop basis coming in by the end of January, probably single stream,” he explained. “Because our ramp-up plan is parallel to the construction, we’ll start our commissioning plan as certain parts of the site are handed over to us. Our hope, then, is in April to be able to accept waste on a continuous, ongoing basis.”

The $69 million project, first conceived of in July 2016, has faced numerous delays, most notably after last year’s windstorm which set construction back for months.

Irene Belanger, China selectman and member of the MRC Board of Directors, when asked about the likelihood that the new April date would be met, said, “I am very confident in the Fiberight/Coastal plant. The company has its financing all set and approved. There is a new construction company working 24 hours a day to catchup after several delays.”

Although the plant should be operating at full capacity by April 2019, Belanger added, “As with any big project like this, the startup could have some glitches that would need fine-tuning, so the first towns to send their items will be towns nearest the facility.”

Town likely to adopt new mailbox policy

by Mary Grow

CHINA — Mailbox owners, take heed: China selectmen are likely to approve a mailbox policy at their Dec. 10 meeting that says the town has no responsibility for mailboxes damaged by snowplows, even if the box is installed according to the recommendations in the policy.

Town Manager Dennis Heath emailed a copy of the proposed policy from the state Department of Transportation to board members before their Nov. 26 meeting, but since not everyone had time to read and consider it, a decision was postponed.

The policy includes suggestions for proper mailbox installation, a process that needs to meet postal service and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. It has two warnings, in addition to the statement that the owner is responsible if the box is damaged:

  • If a box is not installed according to highway department standards and a snowplow is damaged or a driver injured, the box owner might be held responsible; and
  • If a box is embedded in concrete or otherwise made immovable, it can be considered a Deadly Fixed Object. The owner can be asked to redo the installation; if the request is refused, the state transportation department can remove it and bill the owner for the cost.

In addition to the proposed mailbox policy, discussion at the Nov. 26 meeting covered a range of topics, including Regional School Unit (RSU) meetings, transfer station services and local policing.

Neil Farrington, one of China’s two representatives on the RSU #18 board of directors, encouraged selectmen to start attending RSU meetings to find out first-hand what the school department is doing and how its annual budget is determined. The next meeting is at 6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 29, at Messalonskee Middle School. Heath and at least two selectmen indicated they plan to be there.

Heath said China will not participate in the annual household hazardous waste disposal program in Winslow for the next two years. This fall only eight residents signed up, making the cost per person too high.

Selectboard Chairman Robert MacFarland wants the sand bin at the transfer station from which residents are allowed to take up to two buckets of sand at a time more accessible. Transfer station employee Shawn Reed and others said if the bin is outside the gate, people take pick-up loads rather than bucket-loads.

Selectman Ronald Breton recommended bringing the issue to the Transfer Station Committee, scheduled to meet Nov. 27, before selectmen continue discussion.

Oakland and China police officer Tracey Frost reported November had been a more normal month, after a lot of calls in September and October. He and fellow officers are checking summer camps, if owners left a request and if the camps are accessible, and will check people’s homes on request when homeowners take a winter vacation.

The town manager said he is already working on China’s 2019-2020 municipal budget and hopes to have a draft ready by early January.

He reported that the new causeway bridge is open to traffic. He and Selectman Donna Mills-Stevens emphasized that the entire project is not done; phase two will extend the lakeside walkway.

After the regular meeting, selectmen reviewed Heath’s job performance for the first six months in executive session. The result was satisfactory, and they voted afterward on his compensation package.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is currently scheduled for Monday evening, Dec. 10.

Manager directed to continue talks with CMP over LED street lighting

by Mary Grow

For the second meeting in a row, Vassalboro selectmen were able to take care of one of the recurring items on their agenda, leaving others for future discussion (see The Town Line, Nov. 8).

After analyzing options for switching to LED streetlights, board members unanimously directed Town Manager Mary Sabins to continue conversations with Central Maine Power Company about converting the lights without changing companies. Other companies offer LED conversions, and Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus said Vassalboro could have asked for bids. However, dealing with another company would require buying the lights from CMP and would make maintenance a town responsibility.

Left to be re-discussed at one or more future meetings were the police chief’s job description, emergency services dispatching, possible acquisition of the Riverside fire station and renewal of Vassalboro’s cable franchise.

The job description for the police chief, currently Mark Brown, has become increasingly controversial, with Selectman John Melrose focused on the reality of a 15-hour-a-week policeman having limited time and therefore, he recommends, limited duties and others, including Brown, preferring more flexibility.

Brown and Sabins prepared a draft description that Brown defends and Melrose wants changed. Titus said he could accept either version.

For example, Melrose does not want Brown to spend time on traffic duty, which he envisions as sitting by the roadside waiting for speeders. Selectman Robert Browne wants Brown to be able to respond to residents’ complaints about persistent speeding on certain roads. First Responder Peter Allen added that there have been complaints on social media about vehicles passing stopped school buses; he doesn’t think state police or sheriff’s deputies have time to trail buses.

Melrose also wants court appearances deleted from the job description. Sometimes, people pointed out, the local police officer has to go to court.

The discussion ended with suggestions about dividing the draft document into a mission statement, a policy statement and a job description before presenting it to a future meeting.

Selectmen sought information on the future of emergency services dispatching from Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason and Cliff Welles, head of the state’s Regional Communications Center (RCC) in Augusta. As of June 30, 2019, Welles said, the RCC will discontinue dispatching law enforcement personnel, although it will continue to serve area fire departments and rescue units.

Mason said the sheriff’s office has two options. He could help support an expansion of the city of Augusta’s dispatch center, which now serves Augusta and Hallowell, and contract to use its services; or he could invest in equipment and personnel to set up a KSO communications center, but only if every area town on a list he compiled joins. In addition to a communications center, Vassalboro and other municipalities need a PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) where 911 calls are answered and referred to the appropriate center.

Vassalboro selectmen did not attempt to decide what to do. Whatever they choose, Titus concluded, will be more expensive than the current system.

The Riverside fire station belongs to the Riverside Hose Company, which firefighter Mike Vashon said exists only on paper, under a deed that says the land reverts to the prior owner if it is not used by the fire department. Town officials have said the prior owner is probably long dead and his or her heirs are unknown.

Selectmen are considering asking voters to buy the property and lease it back to the fire department. Vashon said firefighters attending the department meeting earlier in the week voted unanimously in favor, and further authorized having the property boundaries surveyed. Rowe and Wendell, of Waterville, will do the survey at an expected cost of $1,500 to $2,000, he said. Selectmen agreed the cable franchise renewal process seems to be confusing. Sabins said she is waiting for a reply to queries. Vassalboro’s current contract expires in March 2019.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, Dec. 6, a gap of three weeks instead of the usual two weeks.

Old items, new one, on selectmen’s agenda

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen are slated to continue discussion of four items and add a new one at their Thursday, Nov. 15, meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the town office meeting room.

The continuing items are options for emergency-services dispatching, as the state prepares changes that will be effective next summer; the possibility of the town acquiring or leasing the Riverside Fire Station, now owned by the volunteer fire department; the police chief’s job description; and information on the pros and cons of converting to LED streetlights.

Also on the Nov. 15 agenda is discussion of the cable franchise renewal process.

Interested residents are welcome at all Vassalboro selectmen’s meetings.

Furlong gets budget position; Wilkens to planning board

by Mary Grow

CHINA – A miscellany of reports and updates highlighted the China selectmen’s Nov. 13 meeting.

Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood gave board members results from Nov. 6 write-in ballots in local elections. After discussion with the two residents who tied for the at-large position on the budget committee, Jeffery Furlong will hold the position. James Wilkens has been elected to the at-large seat on the planning board.

Wilkens is vacating the alternate at-large position. Anyone from anywhere in town interested in becoming the planning board’s alternate member is invited to contact the town office.

Ronald Breton, elected to the board of selectmen, said he has resigned from the Tax Increment Finance Committee and as one of two China representatives on the Kennebec Regional Development Authority board that oversees FirstPark. Selectman Irene Belanger said selectmen need to appoint a successor to the KRDA board; no action was taken.

Hapgood also announced the annual Four Seasons Club rabies clinic, scheduled for noon Saturday, Jan. 5, at the clubhouse on Lakeview Drive. More information will be available.

Town Manager Dennis Heath said the preliminary survey of the town-owned land off Lakeview Drive has started, with A. E. Hodsdon engineers doing the work. Voters approved spending $5,000 for the review, aimed at evaluating the land’s suitability for an emergency services building and perhaps a community center.

Two transfer station employees had their hours increased to 21 a week, entitling them to benefits, effective Nov. 7, after voters approved additional money, the manager said. The third question voters approved asked selectmen to ask the Maine legislature to allow China to stop collecting personal property taxes. Heath said the request is being drafted. Board members advised seeking Maine Municipal Association legal advice on the wording.

Transfer Station Manager Tim Glidden and selectmen talked again about disposal of used tires and discussed what kind of extended warranty would be most useful on the new Ventrac tractor selectmen plan to buy (see the Nov. 8 issue of The Town Line, page 3). Glidden said unless he hears a better idea within a day, he plans to contract to send tires to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company. A decision on the warranty was postponed to give Heath time to get more details.

The town manager said the sidewalk for the new bridge on Causeway Street was to be laid Nov. 14, and paving was scheduled for Nov. 15. The project contractor, Consolidated Land Technologies of China, put conduits for electrical wires under the roadway, an addition to the original contract for which Heath said CLT did not charge the town.

Board members re-elected Robert MacFarland board chairman and Belanger board secretary. They accepted Breton’s offer to represent the board in the Kennebec County Legislative Delegation.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is currently scheduled for Monday evening, Nov. 26.

Vassalboro revised lease sent to historical society

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen took care, at least temporarily, of one of the three repeat issues on their Nov. 1 agenda.

The two board members present voted to send a revised draft of the town’s lease agreement with the Vassalboro Historical Society for the former East Vassalboro schoolhouse to the Historical Society, with a request for approval or suggested changes by the end of the year.

The agreement deals with what costs the town pays and what the Historical Society pays and the way the annual town allotment to the society is handled. The revisions are intended to clarify respective responsibilities and make it easier for the Society to budget.

Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus and member John Melrose discussed updated information on converting to LED streetlights and concluded the situation is still evolving, so a decision should be postponed.

At Melrose’s suggestion they tabled without discussion a revised draft description of the town police officer’s duties, which Melrose said he could not accept and assumed Titus could, creating a tie vote.

Their other decisions were to close the town office Monday, Dec. 24, as well as Christmas Day, and to schedule selectmen’s meetings for Nov. 15, Dec. 6 and Dec. 20. The transfer station will be open as usual the weekend before Christmas.

The future of emergency services dispatching generated a long discussion with Police Chief Mark Brown, Vassalboro First Responders member Peter Allen and resident Frank Hatch, who works for the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.

Currently several dispatch centers serve the Central Maine area, using two different systems. The systems have two parts, a public safety answering point (PSAP) that receives emergency calls and the dispatch center or centers, like the state’s Regional Communications Center (RCC) in Augusta, the sheriff’s office and the Waterville Police Department, to which PSAP employees forward the calls. The dispatch center in turn calls the appropriate law enforcement or medical service.

Vassalboro firefighter Mike Vashon thinks Maine needs to get its act together. New Hampshire has one system for the entire state, plus a backup system, he said.

Changes are impending at the state level. Towns will have a chance, and some might need, to contract with a different service, in or outside Kennebec County. Several people at the Vassalboro meeting think any change is likely to increase costs.

The state’s deadline for changes is June 30, 2019. Vassalboro is all set through the current fiscal year, which ends that day.

Selectmen agreed to invite Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason and RCC Director Cliff Wells to their Nov. 15 meeting to continue the discussion.

LaVerdiere, Breton, Mills-Stevens win seats on board of selectmen

by Mary Grow

In local elections Nov. 6, China voters re-elected incumbent Selectmen Jeffrey LaVerdiere and Donna Mills-Stevens and chose former Selectmen Ronald Breton over Wayne Chadwick to fill the seat vacated by Neil Farrington.

According to Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood, LaVerdiere got 1,142 votes, Breton 966, Mills-Stevens 960 and Chadwick 945. Farrington was elected without opposition to the Regional School Unit #18 Board of Directors. Unopposed for re-election were Planning Board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo and member Toni Wall and Budget Committee members Tom Rumpf, Tim Basham and Jean Conway. The winners of write-in contests for at-large seats on the planning board and the budget committee remained to be determined as of Tuesday night.

Voters approved three of five local referendum questions. They refused to abolish the quorum requirement for town meetings, by a vote of 505 yes to 1,241 no; and they refused to authorize selectmen to approve requests for Tax Increment Finance funds between town meetings, by a vote of 788 yes to 1,102 no.

The three questions that voters approved:

  • Direct selectmen to petition the legislature to let China stop collecting personal property taxes (yes, 1,003; no, 804);
  • Authorize spending up to $5,000 for a preliminary study of town-owned land on Lakeview Drive to see if it is suitable for a new emergency services building and a community center (yes, 1,240; no, 657); and
  • Authorize use of money from the sale of tax-acquired properties to fund pay increases at the transfer station this year, as two employees add enough hours to entitle them to benefits (yes, 1,173; no, 743).

Hapgood said a total of 2,058 ballots were cast, not a town record but a good turn-out for a non-presidential-election year.