CHINA NEWS: Planners postpone action on mission statement

by Mary Grow

For the second time this spring, China Planning Board members postponed discussion of developing a mission statement because not all members were at a meeting. Chairman Jim Wilkens was unable to be at the board’s May 9th meeting. Vice Chairman Milton Dudley proposed no action, and the other members agreed.

They decided they will discuss the statement at their May 23rd meeting, whether or not a full board is present.

Dudley expects agreement on a single sentence, which will become the basis for discussion of how much regulation is appropriate to implement the board’s mission. Board member Toni Wall said the town’s comprehensive plan and the Planning Board Ordinance were the two basic documents on which board goals and policies should be based.

Codes Officer Paul Mitnik expects there will be at least one permit application on the May 23rd agenda as building season begins.

CHINA NEWS: Selectmen award some work at Thurston Park

by Mary Grow

China selectmen discussed a range of issues at their May 15 meeting and made decisions on some of them, including authorizing expenditures.

They reviewed responses to requests for price quotes on work at the north entrance of Thurston Park and awarded part of the work. Payment will come from the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) account, as approved by voters at the March town meeting.

To improve access to the town-owned park in northeastern China, three steps are needed, selectmen and Thurston Park II Committee member Steve Nelson agreed. The bridge, currently under water because of beaver activity, needs to be made accessible and repaired; the gravel pit and the road need to have trees and brush removed; and the road needs extensive repair, using gravel from the pit. Additionally, the gate needs repair, because of repeated abuse by vehicles accessing park roads.

Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said he had second-hand information that beaver removal discussions are under way with state officials.

Selectmen awarded a contract to repair the bridge to S. D. Childs and Sons, of Palermo, for $7,500. They authorized South China forester Tim Basham to clear brush for $3,500. And they approved Nelson’s offer to repair the gate for $1,500.

Reviewing two bids for the road work, selectmen were not clear that they were exactly alike. They therefore postponed awarding a contract until they receive clarification.

They approved L’Heureux’s request for $2,300 to improve insulation of the town garage.

L’Heureux reported that the town will do maintenance on the boat ramp at the head of China Lake’s east basin within the next 10 days, adding crushed rock to fill gaps between the cement planks.

He further reported that a ConnectME grant application for up to $125,000 to extend internet access through a gap on Route 3 has been filed. If the grant is approved, the town will contribute up to 20 percent of the cost of the work, according to a prior Selectboard vote.

Selectmen approved the proposal from the Weeks Mills fire department to buy a second-hand brush truck for $50,000, assuming it appears satisfactory to department members who go to Pennsylvania to inspect it.

Board Chairman Neil Farrington said the Weeks Mills Schoolhouse, one of China’s historic buildings, has sustained water damage that should be repaired before China’s 2018 bicentennial celebration. The building should also have a ramp to the back door to provide handicapped access, he said. He did not ask that the work be done immediately.

Non-monetary actions included the selectmen deciding they did not want to accept as a town building the old shed on the Jones property in South China, even though it is said to be an early home of the South China fire department. The South China library now owns the property.

In response to continued complaints about vehicles speeding and ignoring stop signs in the China Village area, selectmen agreed to post the town’s Black Cat radar in one place and to request a state traffic study in another. The board appointed Robert Kurek to replace Dwain McKenney as one of Palermo’s representatives on the Transfer Station Committee.

The May 15 meeting was preceded by public hearings on the three local ballot questions for June 13 and an executive session to discuss legal issues pertaining to the stipends for volunteer firefighters and rescue personnel approved at the March town meeting.

After the executive session, selectmen asked fire department and rescue representatives for a proposal before the next selectmen’s meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday May 31 (since the usual Monday is the Memorial Day holiday).

Vassalboro News: Finally, agreement on school budget

by Mary Grow

After a series of serious and occasionally contentious meetings, Vassalboro Budget Committee members, school board members and selectmen have agreed on budget recommendations to voters at the June 5 town meeting.

The total budget they support, if it remains unchanged, would increase the local property tax rate by 0.88 mils (88 cents for each $1,000 of valuation), a result that does not please most of the officials involved – and that they expect will not stand.

The two factors that encourage them to predict the actual result will be easier on taxpayers are:

  • The estimated amount of state subsidy for the school department is about $3.644 million, a decrease of more than $249,000 from the current year, based on figures and a state education plan proposed by Governor Paul LePage. Vassalboro officials expect the legislature to amend the figures to the town’s advantage, but they do not anticipate a final figure until after town meeting.
  • Town Manager Mary Sabins’ estimated property valuation is likely to increase when assessor Ellery Bane finishes his review. A higher valuation spreads the tax burden over more property, lowering the tax rate.

The total municipal budget endorsed by the selectmen and budget committee is $60,450 above the current year’s budget, including a three percent pay increase for town employees (except Sabins, who by contract gets two percent). Because income from sources other than taxation is expected to increase, the municipal budget alone would lower the tax rate slightly.

The town’s required contribution to the Kennebec County budget has gone up a grand total of $258, making an almost invisible 0.08 percent impact on taxation.

Even the school budget has increased very little, less than $10,000 in an almost $7.4 million total. The outsize impact on local taxes – a request for $338,681 – comes because revenues other than taxation have declined, especially the state subsidy.

Voters will make final 2017-18 spending decisions at their annual town meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 5, at Vassalboro Community School. The meeting will continue Tuesday, June 13, at the town office, with polls open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for voters to ratify or reject the school budget approved June 5 and elect local officials.

Vassalboro News: Selectmen sign final warrant for June town meeting

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen signed the final warrant for the June 5 and 13 town meeting at their May 4 meeting, after public hearings on two ordinances that are included and a final discussion of school funding.

The ordinances, in Articles 24 and 25 of the 68-article warrant, are titled “Town of Vassalboro Shoreland Zoning Ordinance as revised November 2016” and “Vassalboro Sanitary District Charter, as revised March 2017.” Copies of both are available at the town office and on the town web site.

Planning board members and sanitary district trustees attended the hearings to answer audience questions. There were none about the sanitary district charter; several people were interested in the revised shoreland ordinance. Planning Board Chairman Virginia Brackett told them:

  • The revisions presented June 5 are the same ones that voters rejected in November. She said without exit polling, she did not know why voters did not approve the changes. Selectman Lauchlin Titus surmised that voters did not understand the changes and therefore voted against them.
  • The major change is from volume to floor area or impervious surface as the standard for deciding how much a building in the shoreland can be expanded. The change means, for example, that basements can now be allowed, as they do not change the area of impervious surface. Brackett and others think voter approval of the changes would increase expansions of camps and houses within 250 feet of lakes.
  • The revised ordinance transfer authority over timber harvesting in the shoreland zone from the town to the state, a change Brackett expects would provide more expert regulation.

A two-page handout summarizing changes from the current to the proposed ordinance is also available at the town office and on the web site.

Selectmen commended planning board members for their hard work on the ordinance revisions.

The one issue remaining in the town meeting warrant presented May 4 was a wording question in the article added to deal with possible additional state school funding, beyond what the school board currently expects.

Over a series of meetings, school board and budget committee members and selectmen have predicted the legislature will provide more than the $3.644 million in the current list of school revenues. That figure is more than $249,000 lower than the current year’s subsidy.

However, no one knows what the final figure will be, and legislative action is not expected until after Vassalboro’s town meeting.

To deal with anticipated post-town-meeting changes in the state education subsidy, school officials proposed an article at the end of the school budget asking voters to authorize giving part of any additional state revenue to the town to make up for the amount required from property taxes, $338,681 in the budget as it now stands. Initially, the school board approved that wording, while selectmen endorsed an article that would have given the town all unanticipated state revenue.

At the May 4 meeting, School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur asked indignantly if town officials expected a million dollars if the state should somehow provide that much. Selectmen agreed on an article saying the town will receive up to $338,681 in additional state revenue, if it materializes; should the state subsidy increase even more than that, the rest would go to the school budget.

In other business May 4, selectmen again discussed the request to designate a handicapped parking place in front of Hairbuilders on Oak Grove Road. Town Manager Mary Sabins said a representative of Lucas Striping told Road Commissioner Eugene Field that marking the area would cost about $100, and that it needed a 16-foot-wide area. Selectmen advised asking Field to measure to see if that much space is available without running into the road or onto the sidewalk.

Sabins and Selectman Philip Haines reported briefly on a meeting they attended at which a preliminary plan for a fishway at the China Lake Outlet Dam was displayed.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 18.

CHINA NEWS: Expanded internet service debated

by Mary Grow

At their May 1 meeting China selectmen made progress on two of three ongoing issues.

The most complicated – and potentially expensive – is the question of expanding and improving internet access for China residents. Robert O’Connor, for the Broadband Committee, outlined three alternatives:

  • Fairpoint, which currently offers comparatively slow service and would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade and millions of dollars to provide house-to-house fiber connections.
  • Redzone wireless, which would cost at least $250,000 to add towers to cover the whole town, plus monthly fees, and would require a minimum of 500 subscribers.
  • Spectrum/Time Warner, which currently covers 88 percent of China’s homes and would need an estimated $364,000 to add the remaining 12 percent, and whose monthly charges under the new ownership have increased dramatically, two selectmen said.

Selectmen had no advice for committee members, who intend to continue discussion with all three providers. They did act on a related issue, reviving the unsuccessful 2014 application for a ConnectMe grant to fill in a gap on Route 3 between Windsor Road and Alder Park Road.

Board members unanimously approved offering town payment of 20 percent of the $114,000 for which they are applying and authorized Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux to sign the grant application. Selectmen rediscussed how to implement the March town meeting vote authorizing stipends for volunteer firefighters and China Rescue members. Federal law defining independent contractors versus employees is complicating the issue. They postponed further action until fire department and rescue members report back to them; they considered asking the town attorney to weigh in, but made no decision.

Bill Van Wickler, Weeks Mills Fire Department Assistant Chief, reported on progress toward finding the second-hand brush truck the department was authorized to buy some time ago. He has found a promising candidate in Alabama, he said.

After considerable discussion of specifications and options, selectmen unanimously authorized spending up to $50,000 for a used brush truck plus up to $500 to get it inspected by a knowledgeable person. They further authorized Van Wickler to put down a $500 refundable deposit to hold the Alabama truck, if it is still available.

L’Heureux would prefer a newer truck than the Alabama one, but Van Wickler said most trucks less than 12 to 15 years old are still in service. A brand-new one would cost a minimum of $99,000, he said.

The next China selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, May 15, preceded by a 6:30 p.m. public hearing on June 13 local ballot items.

CHINA NEWS: Three local issues on town June ballot

by Mary Grow

China voters will have a three-issue town ballot on June 13, in addition to ratifying or rejecting the Regional School Unit #18 budget for 2017-18 and voting on state questions. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the former portable classroom behind the town office on Lakeview Drive. Voters in the five RSU 18 towns will approve next year’s school budget at the annual district budget meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, May 18, at Messalonskee High School in Oakland.

Public hearings on China’s three local questions are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 15, before that evening’s selectmen’s meeting.

On June 13, voters will decide by written ballot whether to:

  • Approve an “Ordinance Prohibiting Retail Marijuana Establishments and Retail Marijuana Social Clubs in the Town of China”;
  • Appropriate up to $25,000 from the Unrestricted/Unassigned Fund Balance (surplus) to buy and install a septic system and well for the portable classroom, referred to in this article as the Emergency Preparedness Shelter; and
  • Authorize selectmen to buy a two-acre lot on Alder Park Road adjoining land already town-owned and appropriate $12,000 from surplus for the purchase.

The four budget committee members attending an April 26 meeting unanimously supported both proposed expenditures.

The plan for the well and septic system includes two further steps if voters approve the $25,000: installing a bathroom in the building and connecting the well to the town office. Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux recommends funding the bathroom and town office connection from town office maintenance money. The current town office well provides minimally drinkable water, because it is affected by the pile of salted sand that stood uncovered behind the town office for many years.

The lot proposed for purchase is east of the lot on the corner of Alder Park Road and Lakeview Drive that the town bought several years ago, south of the lot on which the town office complex stands and west of part of the 6.2 acre lot voters approved buying in November 2016. L’Heureux said he is working to get an accurate map and clear title on the November purchase.

At an April 27 special selectboard meeting, selectmen unanimously authorized L’Heureux to sign an agreement on the Alder Park Road lot conditional on voter approval of money to buy it.

The marijuana ordinance was again a subject of debate at the April 27 selectmen’s meeting. It was put on the June 13 warrant without a selectmen’s recommendation to voters and with board member Joann Austin voting against presenting it.

Austin called putting the question on the ballot a mistake. She believes that retail marijuana establishments open new possibilities for local businesspeople, and that keeping marijuana illegal only increases its attractiveness to young people.

Other board members fear marijuana businesses would be dominated by large out-of-state operations with the profits going out of state. They pointed out that approving the ordinance would neither affect medical marijuana operations nor forbid individuals to grow small amounts for personal use.

A copy of the proposed ordinance is on the China town website under Election Information.

In other business April 27, Board Chairman Neil Farrington announced the recent state award to China’s transfer station staff, which will be more fully publicized, and announced that May 7 through 13 is Maine Composting Week.

Board members talked again about plans for stipends for China’s emergency services volunteers. Voters at the March town meeting approved up to $40,000 for the purpose, with a distribution plan to be worked out by the services and town officials. Federal regulations defining when a person is an independent contractor versus an employee are complicating discussions.

Since the April meetings, L’Heureux learned that the property for sale at the north end of China Lake, mentioned by Tax Increment Financing Committee member Dale Worster at the April 24 TIF Committee meeting (see The Town Line, April 27, p. 3), is the house and lot immediately west of Church Park. L’Heureux has informed TIF Committee members.

China transfer station receives excellence award

China transfer station employees, from left to right, Kevin Rhoades, Mary Kay Tisdale, manager Tim Grotton, holding the award, and Ed Brownell.
Contributed photo

The Town of China was awarded the Maine Recycling and Solid Waste Most Improved Program award in 2010. Since then the town has continued to strive for excellence.

China and Palermo have recently agreed to share the use of the China transfer station and the transition has been extremely successful. Many positive comments from Palermo residents have commended the staff’s high commitment to excellence in the pursuit of stellar service to all the residents served.

The inter-local initiative has benefited both municipalities through cost management and capacity building while recognizing the state’s hierarchy in solid waste disposal.

China’s personnel were an integral stakeholder in the conversations on how to make the transition a successful one. An innovative and dynamic group of determined workers provide outstanding service for residents of China and Palermo.

China has also expanded its composting program from 0-lbs of composting before 2012 to over 34-35 tons of composted materials today (weighed when leaving the transfer station and received by those who use the composted materials.)

Their daily contributions to solid waste management processes, environmental concerns, safety in operations, and economically sound solid waste management practices are honorable and appreciated and worth recognition.

The Town of China was presented with the MRRA’s 2017 Recycling and Solid Waste Continuing Excellence Award.

Vassalboro school board to hold special budget meeting

by Mary Grow

The Vassalboro School Board holds a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, May 1, at Vassalboro Community School to put the 2017-18 budget request in final form. The Budget Committee is scheduled to review the proposed school budget and municipal policies at a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 2, in the town office meeting room. Both meetings are open to the public.

Vassalboro News: Public hearing set for two articles

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen scheduled public hearings for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 4, on two of the currently 68 articles on the June 5 town meeting warrant.

  • Art. 24 asks voters if they will approve amendments to the town’s Shoreland Zoning Ordinance. Voters rejected the changes in November 2016 on a written ballot by a little over 200 votes, 981 in favor to 1186 opposed.
  • Art. 25 asks if voters will approve a revised Sanitary District Charter.

Copies of both documents are available at the town office and on the Town of Vassalboro web site.

Selectmen reviewed a draft of the town meeting warrant at their April 20 meeting. The warrant is still incomplete, because the budget committee has not finished its review; a budget committee meeting was scheduled for Tuesday evening, April 25. Selectmen agreed with appropriations recommended by the budget committee earlier in April, including changing some of their previously-recommended amounts and deleting the article that would have asked voters to buy a police vehicle.

They are scheduled to sign the final warrant on May 4, during the selectmen’s meeting that follows the public hearings.

The deadline for submitting signed nomination papers for elective positions on the board of selectmen, school board and sanitary district board of trustees is 4 p.m. Monday, May 1, for candidates’ names to appear on the June 13 ballot.
The June 5 open town meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at Vassalboro Community School. June 13 written-ballot voting will be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the town office.

In other business April 20, selectmen discussed requesting a state-approved handicapped parking space in front of Hairbuilders on Oak Grove Road with owner Beth Morse, Public Works Director Eugene Field, Police Chief Mark Brown and David Allen of the Maine Department of Transportation.

Morse explained that drivers ignore her unofficial sign, making access difficult for her customers who use wheelchairs, walkers or canes. Selectmen wondered how many other town businesses might need handicapped spaces on public ways, how much additional street painting would cost and how the restriction could be enforced. They plan to get more information and return to the topic at one of their May meetings.

Selectmen signed a proclamation designating May 7 through 13 as Municipal Clerks’ Week. According to the International Institute of Municipal Clerks’ web site, the week “will feature a week-long series of activities aimed at increasing the public’s awareness of municipal clerks and the vital services they provide for local government and the community.” Town Manager Mary Sabins said Vassalboro town office staff will “continue to provide service to the public as we have always done,” with no special events planned.

CHINA NEWS: TIF group to ask for RFP to replace Causeway bridge

by Mary Grow

China’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee members plan to ask China selectmen to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for replacing the current Causeway Street bridge at the head of China Lake’s east basin, once they decide what the RFP should say.

At their April 24 meeting, committee members started by trying to specify measurements and materials. They moved toward a more general statement of goals, with the intention of leaving specifics to the selected contractor.
Currently proposed goals include a bridge that is high-quality and safe; enough wider than the present one to allow fishing plus a handicapped-accessible walkway on one or both sides; and enough higher to allow canoes and kayaks to go under it.

Committee member Dale Worster volunteered to draft an RFP for review at the next committee meeting, scheduled for Monday evening, May 8.

Committee members made two other decisions:

  • Rather than scheduling a formal public hearing or public information session on plans for the head of the lake, they will ask Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux to publicize the May 8 meeting as an opportunity for interested residents to get information.
  • After May 8, they will reduce their meetings from every two weeks to once a month, except when business requires additional meetings.

L’Heureux emailed committee members that acquisition of the Bailey lot where people using the boat landing just east of the bridge usually park has been delayed by an unexpected mortgage on the property. He expects the issue to be resolved soon, Selectman and committee member Joann Austin said.

There was consensus that if selectmen issue the RFP promptly and get prompt replies, work will still not start in the summer, because state permits are needed to work near the water and, committee member H. David Cotta said, state officials are likely to forbid work until the lake level is drawn down in the fall.

Since the bridge work will use up a good part of the $750,000 voters at the March town meeting approved for the next three years, committee members disagreed on whether they should go ahead with other plans for the head of the lake or with additional TIF projects.

They briefly discussed three other land acquisitions, one proposed by selectmen for voters’ action on June 13 and two entirely speculative.

Selectmen have added an article to the June 13 local ballot asking voters to appropriate $12,000 from surplus (Unrestricted/Unassigned Fund Balance) to buy a lot on Alder Park Road between two other town-owned parcels. Although TIF funds are not involved, committee members weighed in on the issue, asking what the town would do with the land if acquired and wondering why the lot already has a Sale Pending sign.

Two other suggestions briefly discussed were acquiring land adjacent to the Four Seasons Club beach off Lakeview Drive opposite the town office to provide more parking and better lake access (Austin’s idea) and acquiring land at the north end of the lake west of the causeway for a town beach there (Worster’s idea).

Jim Wilkens and Bob MacFarland said China’s Lake Access Committee should look for a town beach and request TIF money if needed. Ronald Breton and Worster said the Lake Access Committee is inactive.

Worster said he met one of the homeowners in the area he is interested in. He reported that he took several other initiatives, including talking with representatives of Reny’s department stores about the FairPoint building on Route 3; talking with local contractor Robin Tobey about adding gravel at the boat landing parking lot (once the town owns the property); learning from the state Department of Transportation that the type of guardrail at the head of the lake is a town decision, because Causeway Street is a town road; and getting cost estimates for imitation granite benches that could be installed near the causeway.