Agreement approved with Hussey Communications to expand wireless internet

China Baptist Church

by Mary Grow

China selectmen settled two issues they and Town Manager Dennis Heath have been working on for weeks at their Oct. 1 meeting.

By unanimous votes, the four board members present:

  • Approved Heath’s policy on internal financial controls, which includes, among other things, the requirement that town checks have two signatures and an expanded advisory role for the budget committee (see related story here).
  • Approved an agreement with Hussey Communications of Winslow aimed at increasing availability of wireless internet service in China.

Board member Neil Farrington said two small wireless towers have already been added, one at the China Village fire station and one at Three Level Farm on Route 32 North, and the first few lakeside residents have signed up for service. He said as income increases, more towers will be provided; the eventual goal is to cover the whole town, in spite of the hills that block signals.

In other business, Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood said absentee ballots should be available by Oct. 3. Residents unable to come to the polls Nov. 6 can apply for absentee ballots or vote in person at the town office until Nov. 1, when the early-voting period ends except in emergency cases.

Selectmen agreed to advertise for an assistant codes officer, to work 18 hours a week with Paul Mitnik, with the possibility of taking over Mitnik’s position when he retires.

Selectman Irene Belanger reminded those present of the household hazardous waste disposal in Winslow Saturday morning, Oct. 20 – pre-registration at the China transfer station is required – and the shredding on site at the China public works building Saturday morning, Oct. 27. China residents may bring unneeded drugs to each event, she said.

Planners approve camp expansion on Webber Pond

by Mary Grow

For the second month in a row, Vassalboro Planning Board members commended the only applicants before them for a well-prepared application and approved it unanimously with only a brief discussion.

Susan B. and Al Traylor’s plan to enlarge their camp at 54 Birch Point Road, on Webber Pond, met Vassalboro’s shoreland requirements, board members agreed. The Traylors plan a bigger room and a new deck, with minimal earth-moving and no expansion toward the lake.

Normally, the next planning board meeting would be Nov. 6, the first Tuesday of the month. Because the Vassalboro town office meeting room will be used for voting that day and evening, board members rescheduled the meeting to Tuesday evening, Nov. 13.

Selectmen to open bids on tax-acquired lot; review emergency services, police

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen begin their Thursday, Oct. 4, meeting with a 6:30 p.m. public hearing on amendments to the appendices to the General Assistance Ordinance. In a typical year, amendments slightly increase general assistance allowances, in conformity with state-wide changes.

Other major business items on the Oct. 4 agenda include reviewing bids for a tax-acquired lot on Harmony Lane; considering options for emergency services dispatching; discussing local law enforcement and public safety; and considering ways for selectmen to become better informed about school activities, now that the school is part of town government rather than a member of a regional school organization.

The selectmen meet in the town office meeting room. All meetings are open to the public.

Vassalboro selectmen postpone business due to chairman’s absence

by Mary Grow

VASSALBORO – With Chairman Lauchlin Titus unable to attend their Sept. 20 meeting, selectmen postponed the main planned business, a discussion of issues related to police and dispatching services, to their Oct. 4 meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the town office. The two board members present approved the major business item on the Sept. 20 agenda, a boundary agreement with Comprehensive Land Technologies, Inc., which owns a gravel pit adjacent to Vassalboro’s in South China. (ep)

Ben Brann of CLT explained that the CLT pit requires a state license, because it covers more than five acres. To get the license, it must be at least 50 feet from an adjoining pit or have an agreement with the owner of the adjoining pit allowing for a lesser separation. When CLT bought the pit, he said, the separation was already less than 50 feet.

The Town of China has increased the assessed value of Vassalboro’s pit, thereby raising the taxes on it from less than $200 in 2016 to more than $1,500 in 2017 and 2018. China selectmen in their role as assessors unanimously rejected Vassalboro’s appeal of the valuation earlier this month. Vassalboro selectmen did not rule out further investigation, but decided taking the issue to court immediately would not be a wise use of town funds.

Town Manager Mary Sabins reported on steps taken toward applying for grant money for a large generator to make Vassalboro Community School a potential emergency shelter.

Five questions, candidates on China’s November ballot

by Mary Grow

China voters have on their Nov. 6 ballots five referendum questions and in annual local elections one contest and two vacancies.

The candidate list provided by Town Clerk Becky Hapgood shows four candidates for three positions on the Board of Selectmen. Incumbents Jeffrey LaVerdiere and Donna Mills-Stevens each seek another two-year term; Ronald Breton and Wayne Chadwick would also like to be selectmen. Incumbent Neil Farrington is not seeking re-election. Instead, he is running unopposed for China’s seat on the Regional School Unit #18 Board of Directors currently held by Charles Clark. Dawn Castner is the town’s other representative.

For the planning board, incumbents Thomas Miragliuolo (District 4) and Toni Wall (District 2) seek re-election without opposition. There is no candidate on the ballot for the at-large position, elected from anywhere in town, currently held by Breton. For the budget committee, incumbents Timothy Basham (District 4), Jean Conway (secretary) and Thomas Rumpf (District 2) are unopposed for re-election. There is no candidate for the at-large position currently held by Valerie Baker.

The local referendum questions ask if voters want to:

  • Repeal China’s quorum ordinance;
  • Ask the Maine legislature for an exemption from the requirement that all municipalities collect personal property taxes on business equipment;
  • Appropriate up to $5,000 from Tax Increment Finance (TIF) funds to explore building an emergency services building and perhaps a community center on the former Candlewood subdivision, almost 40 acres of town-owned land off the north end of Lakeview Drive;
  • Appropriate up to $26,000 from current-year sale of tax-acquired properties for additional salaries and benefits for transfer station staff; and
  • Authorize selectmen, on the recommendation of the TIF Committee, to spend up to $100,000 in TIF funds on projects not presented to voters at the annual town business meeting.

On Nov. 6, China polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the former portable classroom behind the town office on Lakeview Drive.

TIF members hear about alewife restoration project

China Baptist Church

by Mary Grow

China TIF (Tax Increment Finance) Committee members heard a presentation on the China Lake alewife restoration project, or ARI (Alewife Restoration Initiative), at their Sept. 24 meeting, preliminary to an application for financial assistance expected at their Oct. 22 meeting.

Landis Hudson, of Maine Rivers, Frank Richards, president of the Webber Pond Association, and Nate Gray, of the state Department of Marine Resources, credited alewives for better water quality in area lakes, including Three Mile and Webber ponds and China Lake. The small fish have been trucked into China Lake in recent years; ARI is clearing obstacles in Outlet Stream so they can swim into the lake from the Sebasticook River.

Hudson said of six dams in the stream, one (Masse in East Vassalboro) has been removed completely; Lombard Dam, close to the intersection of Lombard Dam Road and Route 32 between East and North Vassalboro, is almost demolished; Outlet Dam in East Vassalboro and Box Mills and Ladd dams in North Vassalboro will have fishways installed; and the fate of the Morneau dam, between the Masse and Lombard dams, remains to be decided.

Creating fishways will be more expensive, and probably less controversial, than removing dams, Hudson said. The project has received state and federal grant money and $20,000 from China TIF funds approved at the March 2017 town business meeting.

All three proponents talked of the economic advantages of cleaning up China Lake, like higher taxes on lakefront property and a better fishery, perhaps including restoration of the salmon and trout that flourished before an overload of phosphorus led to a lack of oxygen in colder bottom water.

TIF Committee Chairman Frank Soares told Hudson the ARI application will be the first to be received for this year’s TIF funds. He anticipates a request for money for trail development from the China Four Seasons Club (which, he said, he no longer heads; Tom Rumpf is the new president).

In other business Sept. 24, Soares, committee member Tom Michaud and Town Manager Dennis Heath reported on the causeway project at the head of China Lake’s east basin. Replacing the old bridge with a higher cement culvert will require closing Causeway Street, beginning Sept. 27; conspicuous signs announcing the pending closure are posted at both ends of the street.

Anyone wanting to visit the project must sign in at the town office and must wear a safety helmet and abide by all other safety rules, Heath and Soares said. To help residents follow the work without getting in the way, Heath intends to post photos on the China website.

After the bridge is replaced, Michaud said the second phase of the project requires an initial inspection and recommendations from the state Department of Environmental Protection. Committee members have discussed new structures at the head of the lake to make fishing easier, sidewalks and perhaps a four-wheeler trail connecting to the new bridge and other not-yet-fleshed-out ideas. Until state regulators tell the town what can and cannot be done, the committee cannot make firm plans.

Heath will try to get a DEP staffer to look at the area soon.

Decisions postponed due to lack of quorum at planners’ meeting

Causeway Road in China.

by Mary Grow

CHINA — With only three of the six China Planning Board members present at the Sept. 25 board meeting, decisions were postponed on both topics discussed.

Codes Officer Paul Mitnik recommends asking voters to approve amendments to the Land Use Ordinance, some merely clarifications, others more substantive. Board members will consider his suggested changes at future meetings and will decide whether to seek voters’ action at the March 2019 open business meeting or at the June 2019 written-ballot vote on the school budget and perhaps other town and/or state questions.

Board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo and members Jim Wilkens and Milton Dudley agreed that an April procedural decision lets Mitnik and Miragliuolo prepare and sign the final document listing reasons – findings of fact – for a board decision without further action by the whole board, an interpretation since disputed among board members.

The document containing findings of fact cannot be signed as soon as a decision is made because Mitnik needs time to write it. A related question, also left unanswered, is whether the 30-day period during which a decision may be appealed begins with the decision or with the signing of the final document.

The planning board’s next meeting is currently scheduled for Tuesday evening, Oct. 9.

Better communication between agencies topic of Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting

by Mary Grow

Communication was the theme at the Vassalboro selectmen’s Sept. 6 meeting, as board members talked with new Vassalboro School Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer and School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur about better information-sharing between school and town officials and with Police Chief Mark Brown and audience members about Vassalboro’s law enforcement needs.

Pfeiffer, newly-hired as Vassalboro’s one-day-a-week superintendent, came to introduce himself to the board. He promised to return as his schedule permits; a former principal and superintendent, he now works as a consultant to the state education department and travels throughout Maine.

Selectmen Lauchlin Titus and John Melrose expressed frustration at hearing from school officials only while the annual budget process was underway. They would like more frequent information, especially now that dissolution of the regional school unit makes the school more clearly a town department.

Titus called for out of the box thinking to find ways to fund tuition, transportation, special education and other essentials without taking money away from elementary education programs at Vassalboro Community School.

Town Manager Mary Sabins brought Pfeiffer up to date on her efforts to have the school designated a Red Cross emergency center and equipped with a powerful generator.

Melrose raised the law enforcement issue. He pointed out that Vassalboro hired Brown for 15 hours a week, supplementary to his full-time job elsewhere, but gave him the title of police chief, implying, Melrose thinks, more policing than the town really provides.

Melrose recommends either using a more accurate job description or creating something more like a local police department, perhaps by contracting.

Brown told board members he works closely with state and county law enforcement and the state Drug Enforcement Agency. They take on the extended, time-consuming cases, he said; he focuses on local issues, including spending time with students at Vassalboro Community School.

Selectmen agreed to continue the discussion at their next meeting, which they scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19 (instead of the usual 6:30 p.m. Thursday). Sabins asked Brown how the police cruiser is holding up. Brown, whose request for a new vehicle was shot down during spring budget discussions, said it is costing money for repairs, as he forecast.

In other business Sept. 6, selectmen agreed to offer for sale a tax-acquired lot on Harmony Lane, with a minimum bid of $5,000.

Road Foreman Eugene Field suggested additional road repaving if there is money available. Selectmen approved his suggestions and left decisions to him once he sees how much, if any, money he has.

Board members asked Sabins to send a thank-you letter to Steve Jones, of Fieldstone Gardens, for trees donated to the East Vassalboro park.

They approved a plan to provide enough water for the Sept. 8 Double Dam Ducky Derby, worked out by Kennebec Water District authorities, a representative of the Alewife Restoration Project (ARI) who is working on dismantling Lombard Dam and Vassalboro Days organizers.

Titus said he and Melrose plan to attend the Oct. 9 Vassalboro Historical Society meeting to discuss issues involving the society’s lease of the former East Vassalboro schoolhouse.

China projects to keep town crews busy

by Mary Grow

China selectmen’s decisions on bids for various projects around town will keep the town public works crew busy for the rest of the fall.

At their Sept. 17 meeting, selectmen took two major actions.

They accepted Bryce DeMerchant’s bid to dig a new Neck Road fire pond for $5,560, provided that the town crew do a lot of auxiliary work, like pumping out the current pond, moving needed rocks and gravel and the existing fire hydrant and managing erosion control.

Town Manager Dennis Heath said DeMerchant would do the other tasks, but if he does everything his bill would exceed $12,000. There is $6,000 on hand for the project, board members said.

Selectman Neil Farrington supported the plan, though he said he would still prefer to fill in the existing pond and forget about a new one. China Village Fire Chief Timothy Theriault proposed the pond a year ago, to provide a nearby source of water in case of fires on Neck and Stanley Hill roads.

Selectmen rejected bids for installing a bathroom in the former portable classroom behind the town office, building an entry roof over the basement entrance on the north side of the old town house and making repairs at the town office, instead assigning the jobs – except for plumbing and electrical work – to the town crew. Heath said he discussed the idea with foreman Gary Cummings before the selectmen’s meeting.

Board Chairman Robert MacFarland and Selectman Donna Mills-Stevens expressed concern that the board is asking too much of the small town crew. Heath plans to let them schedule the extra assignments as their other responsibilities allow.

Selectmen also rejected a bid of $9,600 for roof work on the red garage south of the town office, because it exceeds the $8,000 voters approved. MacFarland recommended they advertise for new bids.

In other business Sept. 17, selectmen accepted a request that town office staff administer the Heritage Tour Scholarship Fund, established by former eighth-grader Sarah Praul and inherited by her mother, Erika Matthies Praul, after Sarah graduated from China Middle School.

The fund provides assistance to China eighth-grade students who cannot afford the annual March Heritage Tour, which Erika Matthies Praul said now costs close to $1,000 per student. The main fundraiser is selling advertising space on students’ T-shirts to local businesses; individual donations are also welcome.

Heath said the fund will pay the town $100 annually toward administrative costs. Codes Officer Paul Mitnik brought a consent agreement to correct land use violations. Selectmen approved it.

Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood said residents may apply now for absentee ballots for Nov. 6. Ballots will be available a month before the election.

Selectman Irene Belanger and Transfer Station Manager Tim Grotton said China residents will be able to participate in a hazardous waste disposal program in Winslow on Oct. 20, after registering at the China facility, and in a drug take-back program and a document shredding program in China on Oct. 27. More information is available at the transfer station or the town office.

On Heath’s recommendation, board members again postponed action on two documents, a tower use agreement with Hussey Communications, of Winslow, intended to improve wireless service in town and an internal financial controls policy.

Heath announced that work on the new causeway bridge at the head of China Lake’s east basin is scheduled to close Causeway Street from the first week in October through the first week in November.

China budget committee approves three spending measures to be on Nov. 6 ballot

Image Credit: chinalakeassociation.org

by Mary Grow

China Budget Committee members have unanimously endorsed three spending measures selectmen will present to voters on Nov. 6.

Nov. 6 local voting includes elections and five referendum questions. The first two, which did not need action at the Sept. 5 Budget Committee meeting, ask if voters want to repeal China’s quorum ordinance (which sets a minimum number of voters required for any town meeting to be held) and if they want to send a resolution to the state legislature asking to authorize municipalities to opt out of collecting personal property taxes (paid on business equipment).

The issues the Budget Committee supported are: (ep)

– A request to appropriate up to $5,000 from Tax Increment Finance (TIF) funds to explore possibilities of using the 39-acre former subdivision on Lakeview Drive opposite the Candlewood property for an emergency services building and a community center.

  • A request to authorize selectmen to use up to $26,000 from sale of tax-acquired property in the current (2018-19) fiscal year to pay for additional hours and benefits for transfer station employees, due to the new schedule that took effect Sept. 4 and an expected staff change.
  • A request to give selectmen continuing annual authority to use up to $100,000 in TIF funds, on recommendation of the TIF Committee, for economic development projects not presented to voters and approved at the March town business meeting.
  • On the first issue, Town Manager Dennis Heath emphasized the $5,000 would be used for a conceptual rendering only. The emergency services building he has in mind would house the China Village volunteer fire department and China rescue, provide office and vehicle space for China’s part-time police force and perhaps house a Delta ambulance.

Delta officials have expressed interest in keeping an ambulance in China if there were a place for it, Heath said. China Rescue is a first-responder unit not licensed to transport.

If voters approve the concept, and if the project goes ahead, Heath said other town managers have used TIF economic development money for fire department housing. The rest of the project would probably need other funding sources.

On the transfer station issue, Heath explained that the new schedule requires increasing hours for two part-time employees to the point where they are entitled to benefits. The $26,000 ceiling ought to cover the increases, and is less than China has already taken in this year from the sale of one tax-acquired property, he said.

As of Sept. 4, the transfer station is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, five consecutive days. Hours were sent out with tax bills and are posted on the Town of China web site, in recent issues of The Town Line and elsewhere in town.

Heath said transfer station employee Ed Brownell plans to retire in the spring, necessitating additional changes.

If voters approve the final referendum question, letting the TIF Committee and selectmen spend TIF money without town meeting authorization, projects that come up during the year can be funded without delay, Heath said. The TIF Committee, he reported, asked selectmen to postpone the question to a spring 2019 ballot, to give more time for consideration.

The five Budget Committee members present Sept. 5 endorsed all articles. Votes were 5-0 except on the last question, which was 4-0-1: Budget Committee secretary Jean Conway abstained, since she is a TIF Committee member. (ep)

On Nov. 6, China polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the former portable classroom behind the town office.