CHINA: Hortons’ teen camp gets go ahead; Dollar General application judged incomplete

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members had a long meeting April 10, starting with a public hearing on Susan and Wesley Horton’s proposed leadership development camp on Three Mile Pond and going on to approve the camp and hear preliminary plans for a new Dollar General Store just outside South China Village.

After testimony from a dozen of the close to 20 neighbors and other interested parties who attended the Hortons’ hearing or sent written comments, board members voted unanimously that the project met all criteria in China’s land use ordinance.

At their next meeting they need to review written findings of fact that justify their decision and sign formal approval. (ep)

Neighbors had three main concerns: the appearance that the Hortons had started their camp before getting a town permit, traffic on Pond Hill Road and the degree of supervision that would be exercised over the young clients.

The Hortons bought the almost-45-acre property last fall planning to use it as a transition from their Ironwood Maine facility, in Morrill, where troubled teens are treated for up to a year, to the youngsters’ homes, colleges or other settings. Since then, they said, they have had young adults staying there – a use they consider similar to the property’s prior use by Maersk as a corporate retreat, and not the same as their proposed future use.

The incoming clients will come voluntarily and will normally stay three months, Susan Horton said. The Hortons plan to have no more than 10 clients on site at a time, with two and frequently during the day three staff members. The clientele does not include criminals or recovering drug addicts.

Several nearby residents mentioned increased traffic, sometimes well into the evening. The evening vehicles might be night staffers coming to work, the Hortons suggested. One of the current residents does have a car; none of the future 16- and 17-year-old residents will, they said.

Asked by planning board member Ronald Breton if they followed up on a neighbor’s complaint about an offensive snow sculpture, Wesley Horton said that evening he brought a letter from the offender, who has apologized, to the neighbor.

Three members of the French family, who helped take care of the property when it was a corporate retreat, believe the new use will be good for the neighborhood. Gary French said current “very respectful” residents had invited them for a meal. Marsha French commented that Maersk used to have up to 20 guests at a time, “very heavy partiers, [making] a lot of noise that echoed across that lake.

The Dollar General store is proposed for a one-acre lot on the southwest corner of the intersection of Route 3 and Windsor Road. Todd Hamula, Senior Development Manager for the Zaremba Group leading the project, and engineer Chris Nadeau of Nobis Engineering brought an array of maps and plans.

The planned entrance to the store parking lot will be off Windsor Road, on the south side of the property. The sight distance does not quite meet the state Department of Transportation’s required 125 feet, but DOT has granted a waiver allowing the driveway, Nadeau said.

Board members were unhappy with traffic issues, phosphorus control on such a small lot and the septic system. Audience members questioned the need for another dollar store in South China.

The board asked for more information to support the DOT waiver. Members are especially concerned about drivers turning south from Route 3 onto Windsor Road colliding with vehicles entering or exiting the store parking area.

Codes Officer Paul Mitnik said with a small lot more than half covered by a building and pavement, meeting China’s Phosphorus Control Ordinance requirements is probably impossible. He said state rules, which he thinks the planning board could use but is not required to use, allow a developer to compensate with a payment that would be used to control phosphorus run-off somewhere else.

No one present could remember China’s using the payment provision. Planning Board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo said his initial reaction is that payment would be “morally wrong,” though he is willing to hear more about the idea.

Mitnik said the proposed septic system is inadequate. Nadeau agreed, saying the design is wrong and has been sent back to the designer.

Hamula said he talked with the neighbor to the south about the type of boundary she would like between the parking lot and her property; they agreed on evergreens, probably arborvitae, instead of a fence.

The result of the planning board discussion was a unanimous vote that Dollar General’s application is not complete and needs changes before the board can begin review. Miragliuolo said the decision is not a rejection of the application, and board members will continue informal discussions as necessary.

When a complete application is submitted the planning board is likely to schedule a public hearing. At the April 10 meeting, no date was set for further discussion.

See previous stories about teen camp: 

China public hearing planned on proposed teen camp
China planners set to hear proposal on camp for teens
China planners hear application on camp for teens

New Dimension, Taconnet credit unions merge

WATERVILLE/WINSLOW — On April 1, 2018, New Dimensions Federal Credit Union welcomed the members of Taconnet Federal Credit Union. With the merger complete, they will continue to grow living by the “People Helping People” mentality that their members have come to know over the years.

Though there is always a transition period when merging two great financial institutions, they have always been committed to exceptional member service. NDFCU has been working tirelessly to ensure as seamless a transition as possible for their members because they want member’s complete trust in knowing their financial environment will not be disrupted. The NDFCU promise and commitment is that members will experience an even stronger financial partnership with the expansion of products and services, access to four branch locations located in Waterville, Winslow, Augusta, and Skowhegan, additional free ATM’s, and knowledgeable, caring staff who put their members first. Additionally, they are now able to offer more competitive rates and fees; which over time will allow operational efficiencies. A great accomplishment that they have worked hard to gain for their members.

Ryan Poulin, CEO of New Dimensions Federal Credit Union states, “The merger will enable us to offer the most innovative technology through the products and services we provide. Our focus is to keep up with the always increasing demand our members continually state is a necessity in today’s online financial environment. By providing what they have asked for we are also ensuring convenience, stability, and reliability—while maintaining that courteous customer service standard they have come to know and expect from us.”

The mission statement of New Dimensions Federal Credit Union is “Educate. Empower. Evolve.” These three simple words sum up what they provide to their members and the communities in which they live. Over the past year, they were able to expand their financial literacy program by providing their members with free financial tools and resources by offering seminars and one-on-one consultations.

In response to that growth, they have purchased a piece of land on Silver Street, in Waterville, on which they will begin constructing a new facility for their members that will provide better visibility and access to the community. The new bilding will be slightly smaller than their current Grove Street location as it will house the teller line and loan departments. Their current location will remain as an operation center for back office functions.

Vassalboro committee continues work on town budget


by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Budget Committee members ran out of time to finish their work at their April 12 meeting, so they will meet again at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 19, in the town office. Selectmen have consequently moved their meeting time to 6 instead of 6:30 that evening.

Budget committee members continued discussion of municipal budget requests April 12, taking one vote and one straw poll and reaching informal consensus on other items. They still need to make recommendations on spending requests in warrant articles for the June 4 town meeting. Selectmen have made their recommendations, but board member Robert Browne said they could be changed.

Selectmen are scheduled to review a draft of the warrant April 19. The preliminary version Town Manager Mary Sabins prepared for the April 12 meeting has 68 articles. Two more articles, confirmation or denial of the school budget approved June 4 and local elections, are be decided by written ballot on June 12.

The one vote was to recommend voters appropriate $10,000 from the alewife reserve fund (money gained from selling alewives each spring) for the China Region Lakes Alliance, currently Art. 51 in the warrant. The vote was 5-2, with Donald Breton, Elizabeth Reuthe, Douglas Phillips, Dick Phippen and Peggy Shaffer in favor, William Browne and Phillip Landry opposed and Chairman Rick Denico abstaining.

The selectmen recommended $5,000; the organization asked for $15,000.

The straw poll was on whether to recommend no funding for a Vassalboro police department, relying instead on state and county law enforcement officers. If committee members so recommend when they make final decisions, Selectman Lauchlin Titus said a separate police department warrant article would be appropriate to clarify the issue for voters. In the preliminary draft warrant, Art. 11 asks for $69,797 for police, animal control and emergency dispatching services.

A majority tentatively favored recommending no funding, at least to create a separate article and give voters a chance to discuss the issue separately.

Committee members revisited requests from Public Works Foreman Eugene Field, First Responders and the volunteer fire department, whose members want a replacement roof on the Riverside fire station.

Public works issues include paving roads and the public works dooryard; equipment rental, especially an excavator for roadside ditching; and Field’s requests for a new generator and a new power washer. Committee members also questioned estimated future fuel costs. A majority favored not recommending $30,000 that would either do the garage area or allow additional road paving. When committee Chairman Rick Denico asked Field what he would cut, Field replied, “It depends on what the board [of selectmen] and residents want for service.” First Responders Chief Dan Mayotte explained what supplies his volunteers need to buy. Committee members reached informal preliminary consensus to support the group’s $13,250 budget request.

Fire department officers had quotes averaging $25,000 for a new metal roof for the Riverside fire station. At the budget committee’s request, they got an estimate of around $12,500 for asphalt shingles, the current roofing material.

Budget committee members talked about recommending $12,500 in 2018-19 and postponing the other half.

Firefighter and budget committee member Donald Breton said the department’s board of directors do not want to redo asphalt shingles; if voters approve $12,500, they will either reroof half the building with metal or hold the money hoping for more in 2019.

Several people said the price of metal is rising rapidly, because of national tariffs. Titus gave an example of the price of steel doubling since February and wondered whether the companies would be able to honor the quotes they gave the fire department.

The prolonged discussions are part of budget committee members’ effort to limit the 2018-19 tax increase. They also met with the school board on April 10, but did not have final school budget figures.

As the meeting wound down, Denico proposed future meetings after “the pre-town meeting crunch” that would give committee members time to consider major money-saving changes, like limiting school choice. Other committee members seemed to approve. Selectman Browne reminded them, as Titus had done during discussion of the police department, that setting policy was the selectmen’s responsibility, not the budget committee’s.

China selectmen to hold executive session

The China Board of Selectmen will hold an executive session on Thursday, April 12, at 5:30 p.m., at the town office. This meeting is not open to the public.

CHINA: KWD trustees hear China Lake report

Image Credit:

by Roland D. Hallee

At their March 15 meeting, the Kennebec Water District board of trustees heard a report, on the request of trustee Allan Fuller, regarding the China Lake water level and maintaining this level within the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lake level guidance order.

Kennebec Water District Engineer Matt Zetterman informed the trustees that in order to meet the winter target level of one to two feet below the spillway, KWD has recently made an adjustment to increase the flow to the Outlet Stream, from 115 cubic feet per second (cfs) to between 150 and 160 cfs. Zetterman explained that although the DEP allows a maximum water release of 200 cfs, in consideration of the stream volume capacity, property owners, and shoreland, KWD attempts to maintain a flow below this level. In addition, as the lake level decreases, it becomes more difficult to sustain the higher flow. He further explained that the month of April is when the flow is adjusted with the intention of replenishing the lake with water. With the amount of eventual snow melt, raising the level should not be too difficult, but adjustments will continue depending upon weather variables such as the amount of precipitation, or the lack thereof.

Zetterman assured the trustees that KWD has good and constant communications with the DEP, and the DEP is aware of the effort by the Kennebec Water District to maintain the lake level within the state guidelines.

Vassalboro town school officials work to lower school budget


by Mary Grow

Vassalboro town and school and AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) #92 officials are working to bring down the 2018-19 municipal and school budgets to avert a large tax increase.

Budget committee members talked about both school and municipal budget requests at their April 5 meeting, which followed a short selectmen’s meeting. They had future meetings scheduled and therefore made no formal recommendations.

The current tax rate, Town Manager Mary Sabins said, is 14.5 mils, or $14.50 for each $1,000 of valuation. The preliminary budgets as of April 5 – which everyone emphasized are subject to change – would require a 2018-19 rate of 16.22 mils, or $16.22 for each $1,000 of valuation.

To reduce the new rate to 15.22 mils would require cutting 2018-19 expenditures by around $300,000, Sabins said.

At their previous meeting with the school board, budget committee members learned of $63,000 in savings on insurance costs that had not been figured in the school budget. They hope for additional education savings.

Sabins’ calculations did include an increase in state revenue sharing, bringing that source of non-local-tax income to $170,000 instead of the $160,000 she had expected. Going through the municipal budget and considering a variety of options, budget committee members came up with about $86,000 in cuts they might recommend.

One proposal discussed was to eliminate Police Chief Mark Brown’s position and rely entirely on the State Police and Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office for police coverage. The rationale was not dissatisfaction with Brown, but the possibility of saving more than $27,000, plus the cost of a new police car in the fairly near future. Sabins warned part of the savings might be offset by the need to pay Brown unemployment compensation.

Other items that might be proposed for reduction when the committee makes its formal recommendations include several public works department requests and the increase requested by Vassalboro First Responders.

After an April 10 meeting with the school board, the budget committee was scheduled to hold its final meeting to make recommendations at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 12, at the town office. A week later, selectmen are scheduled to review the draft warrant for the June 4 annual town meeting, where voters will make final spending decisions.

At the short April 5 selectmen’s meeting preceding the budget committee meeting, selectmen unanimously approved new contracts with Sabins and with alewife harvester Ronald Weeks.

China public hearing planned on proposed teen camp

China Planning Board members will begin their April 10 meeting with a public hearing on plans for a leadership camp for teenagers on Three Mile Pond and also hear at least preliminary information on a proposed Dollar General store at 9 Windsor Road, at the intersection of Route 3 and Windsor Road.

At the board’s March 27 meeting Wesley and Susan Horton explained their new use for the existing building and grounds at 24 Pond Hill Road, with enough interested neighbors present to lead the board to schedule the public hearing for 6:30 p.m. April 10. After hearing comments, board members are scheduled to continue to review the application.

The new agenda item is an application from Zaremba Program Development LLC for a Dollar General store, described as a retail department store, to be built on the corner lot that currently has a house on it. At an informal discussion some weeks ago Planning Board members heard that the store will be the smallest Dollar General builds and that access is planned off Windsor Road. Because of the location and size of the lot, board members expressed concerns about traffic, especially motorists turning right onto Windsor Road from Route 3.

See our related story: China planners set to hear proposal on camp for teens


CHINA: CEO to seek court order against Bio Renewable Fuels to cease operation

by Mary Grow

China selectmen acted on one of two ongoing issues on their April 2 agenda, but need more information and warmer weather to deal with the other.

By a unanimous vote, board members granted Codes Officer Paul Mitnik’s request to have the town attorney seek a court order requiring Ralph Howe, owner of Bio Renewable Fuels (BRF), to cease operations at his Dirigo Road property and clean up the property.

China Village Fire Chief Timothy Theriault told the board he and the two landowners involved are satisfied with the Neck Road fire pond that selectmen have talked about spending more money on, though he agrees a guard rail is needed. The contractor who dug the pond will return to finish the job after the ground thaws and Tom Michaud, the major landowner involved, returns from Florida.

The dispute between Howe and the town goes back to the summer of 2017, when Mitnik determined Howe needed a permit for his expanded commercial use. Howe declined to apply for one and appealed Mitnik’s notice of violation to the Board of Appeals, which twice denied his appeal. Mitnik said since Howe closed down his operation in Fairfield he has moved trailers and tanks onto the Dirigo Road property, in no apparent order and without spill containment under the tanks. Neighbors have complained, he said.

Howe said he has only consolidated his waste tanks; he is not doing any new business, has not made biofuel in a long time, is not treating the waste (because Mitnik threatened to fine him for operating without a permit) and does not need a new town permit.

Selectmen told Howe he should go to the planning board. Board member Donna Mills-Stevens asked repeatedly for a business plan; Jeffrey LaVerdiere said Howe’s business should be run properly with respect for neighbors or should stop.

When LaVerdiere asked Howe if a cease-and-desist order would lead to a protracted legal battle, Howe replied, “Yes.”

The Neck Road fire pond also dates back to 2017. Voters approved $8,500 to create the pond in November; Theriault said after the first contractor pulled out, he found a second contractor who dug the pond late in November.

The original plan was to expand an existing pond on two properties, Michaud’s and that of a neighbor who was not named in the discussion. The neighbor asked for legal documents, including an easement or right of way letting the town use the property. Instead, his part of the pond was walled off and the work done entirely on Michaud’s property, with Michaud’s support, Theriault said.

Selectmen have questioned legal and liability issues and the safety of the steep-sided 15-foot-deep pond. They talked about spending up to another $25,000 on improvements they consider necessary.

“We love the pond. I’ve used it,” Theriault said at the April 2 meeting. Availability of water provides additional fire protection for the area, he said. He does favor a guard rail, and said rocks from Michaud’s land can be used to stabilize eroding areas.

Theriault said once Michaud returns, he expects the two neighbors to agree on uniting what are now separate ponds and the contractor to do whatever more is needed to make the pond permanent and safe.

In other business April 2, selectmen scheduled a public hearing for 6:15 p.m. Monday, April 16, before their next meeting, on Michael Marois’ application for a liquor license for his MJEK restaurant on Lakeview Drive.

Theriault, in his capacity as District #79 State Representative, presented former Selectman Joann Austin an award from the 128th Maine Legislature recognizing her 25 years of public service.

Selectmen appointed three committee members: Neil Farrington to the Historic Preservation Committee, Raigan Messier to the Recreation Committee and Simeon Blake Brown as Palermo’s second representative on the Transfer Station Committee. Board member Irene Belanger distributed new Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce brochures describing the greater Waterville region, including China. Copies are available in public places.

Belanger gave selectmen copies of the proposed RSU (Regional School Unit) #18 budget for 2018-19, which voters in the member towns (Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney) will approve or reject at the polls June 12.

She announced a drug take-back day at the China transfer station, scheduled for Saturday, April 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Asked the effect of the 2018-19 budgets on the tax rate, Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux replied that he expects a decrease on the municipal side and an increase on the school side will approximately balance, leaving the Kennebec County budget the factor that will determine the tax rate. “There is a very good possibility it will stay where it is,” he summarized.

After adjourning their meeting, selectmen went into executive session to open what L’Heureux and board Chairman Robert MacFarland said were 17 applications from people seeking to succeed L’Heureux when he retires at the end of June.

Palermo residents win battle over Sheepscot Lake dam opening

Sheepscot dam

by Carolyn Viens
Sheepscot Lake Assocation

The residents of Palermo have won a major battle in the opposition to LD922, the legislative bill mandating the opening of the Sheepscot Dam to alewives, and other migrating fishes which would have a negative impact on the health of the lake. Representative Jeffrey Pierce of the Maine House of Representatives, and sponsor of LD922, has agreed to withdraw the bill which is currently tabled in the Maine House upon request of Governor Paul LePage.

Following a meeting held with the governor, Mr. Pierce, Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W), and Commissioner Keliher of the Maine Deparment of Marine Resources (DMR), it was determined that several expensive steps would need to be taken before such legislation should be considered. These steps include the addition of appropriate biosecurity systems deemed necessary to adequately protect the Palermo rearing station, the securing of funding from private sources to assist in installation of a system meeting the DIF&W criteria, and the determination of the appropriate timeframe to reopen the fish passage for sea run alewife once the necessary measures are in place at the Palermo rearing station. These steps would be extremely expensive and time consuming to complete, and as a result the legislation has been pulled and the removal of the fish gate will not be permitted.

This indefinite postponement is a direct result of the citizens of Palermo and the Sheepscot Lake Association showing their concern repeatedly during town meetings, as well as through communication with government representatives. It would not have been successful without the ongoing involvement of Senate President Michael Thibodeau, who continually gave support throughout this process.

Congratulations to all of you who took the time and made the effort for your voices to be heard through testifying, as well as the untold hours spent contacting legislators, writing letters and articles to the newspapers, and networking with people who could help the cause! It is a testament to the fact that our voices, collectively, were heard and that the government representatives listened! A special thank you for the Long Pond constituents who participated in both research, written articles, and testimony at the hearing, as well as everyone who invested their time and shared their voice, as well as those who listened, and cared. Sheepscot will continue to be the beautiful, pristine, and healthy lake shared by so many each year!

Vassalboro School board reviews unfinished 2018-19 budget


by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members reviewed an unfinished 2018-19 budget and discussed it with budget committee members at two sequential meetings March 29. The preliminary $7.9 million budget at the beginning of the meetings would require an increase in local taxes of more than $495,000, which Town Manager Mary Sabins said would amount to somewhere around $1.30 for each $1,000 of valuation (about one and one-third mil).

However, that figure is already obsolete, according to AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) #92 Superintendent Eric Haley and Finance Director Paula Pooler. For example, they had projected a nine percent increase in insurance costs, and had learned earlier that day that the increase will be zero, cutting about $63,000 in projected expenditures.

Haley and Pooler emphasized the number of expensive unknowns in each annual school budget. For example, when a special education student who needs a full-time educational technician moves into or out of Vassalboro, budget needs can increase or decrease by thousands of dollars.

Tuition costs are also hard to predict. The state does not set its figures until late in the calendar year, and the cost varies among the different high schools Vassalboro students attend, with Waterville the least expensive and Erskine Academy the most. If the state figures are higher than expected, or if more Vassalboro eighth-graders choose Erskine, or if more high-school sophomores choose the vocational schools as an option, tuition will be underfunded.

Special education is one reason the 2018-19 budget is projected to increase, Haley said. Another is teachers’ and educational technicians’ salaries, which have been negotiated. He shared results of a survey showing that Vassalboro pays most of its teachers and educational technicians less than they would get in comparable jobs in nearby school systems like Fairfield, Oakland or Madison.

Budget committee and school board members have another joint meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 10, after the school board meeting at 6 p.m. that evening (a week earlier than usual because of April school vacation).

The budget committee will also meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 5, in the town office. That evening’s selectmen’s meeting will begin at 6 p.m., also in the town office.

In addition to the budget, school board and budget committee members briefly discussed consequences of dissolving AOS #92. Vassalboro Community School will have its own part-time superintendent; school board members intend to contract with Waterville and Winslow to get the same central office services they have been getting, delivered by many of the same people, with costs determined by the same formula that has divided AOS central office costs among Vassalboro, Waterville and Winslow.

While Haley and most school board members favor a three-year contract, several budget committee members and selectmen advised starting with a one-year contract. Haley said he plans to provide enough staff members, replacements and two new hires, to serve all three former AOS schools; but he needs a three-year commitment to justify staffing. He doubts Vassalboro would find less expensive services elsewhere; Pooler warned Vassalboro might end up with none.

School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur agreed, saying no other agency “has been beating down my door” to offer a competing proposal.

School board member Susan Tuthill said a three-year contract would allow a year to adjust, not only to the new arrangement but also to a new superintendent and principal; the second year would allow evaluation; and if problems developed, the third year could be used to explore alternatives.

Selectman John Melrose has talked with people in two other towns where go-it-alone schools have moved to in-house services. Lauchlin Titus, chairman of the selectmen, compared the proposed contract for school services with Vassalboro’s alewife harvesting contract, which started as annual and when the arrangement proved satisfactory went to three and now five years.

Pooler and Vassalboro Community School Principal Dianna Gram said the comparison is inaccurate, because Vassalboro is not “jumping into the unknown”; the school has had nine years of satisfactory service from the AOS office.

Gram was accompanied at the School board and budget committee meetings by her successor, Dr. Megan Allen, who will become principal when Gram retires at the end of June.