Selectmen discuss sidewalks, sewer fees, solid waste and dam management

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen’s March 7 topics included sidewalks, sewer fees, solid waste hauling and dam management.

The sidewalk discussion related to state plans to rebuild Route 32, tentatively in 2021 or 2022. The question was whether sidewalks in the built-up sections of North and East Vassalboro would increase safety and convenience compared to the five-foot paved shoulders in the state plan.

Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus said the current sidewalks in North Vassalboro are not well maintained in winter and are so bumpy year-round that people often walk in the roadway. The state project would include new sidewalks, but maintenance would be a town responsibility, meaning costs for plowing, salting and sanding and repair as needed.

East Vassalboro resident Holly Weidner thinks drivers would not respect the wide shoulders as pedestrian territory, but would take them as an excuse to drive faster. Titus and Weidner agreed traffic-calming measures in both villages should be part of the rebuilding project.

Board member John Melrose, a former Commissioner of Transportation, expects the state transportation department to hold a public meeting to collect residents’ views when the project is closer to reality.

A resident raised the question of sewer fees, which are scheduled to almost double April 1 to help Vassalboro Sanitary District trustees fund the proposed connection to the Winslow and Waterville sewer system. Another resident said 192 households are on Vassalboro’s system, which serves East and North Vassalboro; many are already delinquent on current sewer fees.

The first speaker asked whether tax money could be used to help residents pay sewer bills. Titus said residents who want a question about spending tax money on the town meeting warrant need to draft it and get 211 voters to sign a petition supporting it in order to compel selectmen to add it.

The town has donated TIF (Tax Increment Financing) funds to the sewer project and is likely to continue to do so, he said.

Board members reviewed five bids for hauling solid waste and unanimously accepted Bolster’s Rubbish Removal of Burnham as hauler for solid waste and recyclable cardboard. The bid forms invited bidders to propose alternative methods to the containers the town now uses; Town Manager Mary Sabins said no one did.

The dam issue involves the contract under which the Kennebec Water District (KWD) manages the Outlet Dam in East Vassalboro to keep the China Lake water level within state guidelines. Sabins said the contract expired Jan. 31. The draft renewal submitted by KWD increases the fee charged to Vassalboro and reassigns some responsibilities from KWD to the town.

Sabins said KWD General Manager Roger Crouse had invited her to discuss the contract. Selectmen encouraged her to accept the invitation.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, March 21, with a budget committee meeting scheduled to follow at 7 p.m.

Budget committee absorbs much information at meeting

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Budget Committee members absorbed much information and many opinions at their March 5 and March 7 meetings, though they are well short of overall budget figures needed to begin making recommendations to voters.

The total budget for the current (July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019) fiscal year is somewhat under $10 million. The school budget, which is not yet determined for 2019-2020, is somewhat under $8 million, of which almost $3.7 million comes from local funds. Vassalboro’s share of the 2018-2019 Kennebec County budget is $325,000 and change, with the 2019-2020 assessment also undetermined as of early March.

Questions budget committee members discussed at their two early-March meetings include whether to repair the town grader, buy a second-hand replacement or ask Road Commissioner Eugene Field to lease a grader as needed; whether to replace the police cruiser; additional staffing and possible redesign at the transfer station; and town employees’ salaries.

Last year’s future capital expenditure summary describes Vassalboro’s 1991 grader’s condition as good. At the March 5 meeting, Selectman Lauchlin Titus updated: “It’s still a four-letter word, but the word is ‘junk.’”

Field thinks repairs possible. He recommends committing at least $20,000 to have the grader examined and tested; if it is repairable, he expects at least another five years’ work from it. He said he found one used grader, a 2005, for $80,000; he does not support buying a new one at $280,000 or more.

Vassalboro has only 2.2 miles of unpaved public roads that need annual grading. However, Field said, he and his crew use the grader for shoulder work after paving and as the reserve vehicle in case a plow truck breaks down in mid-storm. Graders are not readily available, he said; if he had to rely on leasing he might not find one when needed.

Discussion of the grader, planned 2019 paving and deteriorating culverts led several people to share accounts of towns elsewhere whose officials have discontinued or dead-ended roads when they could not afford maintenance or a replacement bridge.

Field also requests funding for a new small truck. Asked at the March 7 meeting whether the truck or the grader is more important, he said he needs both.

Police Chief Mark Brown wants his 12-year-old cruiser replaced. He recommended buying a new one, preferably an all-wheel-drive SUV prewired for lights and siren, over three years. The estimated annual payment would be about $13,000. At this early stage in the budget process, his proposal appears to have support.

If he does not get a new vehicle, Brown said, the repair budget needs a generous increase, because the current one keeps having problems – it’s “nickel and diming the town to death.”

Transfer Station Manager George Hamar said he would like a full-time assistant. He has worked alone for a year, having to skip training classes and find a substitute if he is ill.

Town Manager Mary Sabins is considering seeking a new employee qualified to divide hours between public works and the transfer station.

Selectman John Melrose proposes a $5,000 appropriation to get a traffic engineer’s suggestions about changing the traffic pattern at the transfer station to make it safer.

Sabins presented her salary recommendations for current town employees and for any new hires. At this stage, the only firm figure in that area is Sabins’ contractual two percent raise.

The budget committee’s job, as re-elected Chairman Rick Denico reminded members March 5, is to advise voters on selectmen’s and school board members’ recommended expenditures for the new fiscal year. “We can work with the numbers, but we can’t change policy,” he said.

Later in the meeting, budget committee member and former Police Chief Richard Phippen wanted to talk about the selectmen’s policy on policing, which emphasizes community policing and leaves monitoring for speeders mostly to county and state law enforcement. Phippen said residents want as much speed control as possible; Denico repeated policy is not the budget committee’s job.

Policy and priorities, resident Holly Weidner suggested, should be considered at one or more public meetings in the fall, well before the pre-town-meeting budget crunch. Denico referred her to the 2014 Capital Expenses Committee reports on the town website as a starting point, and Selectman Robert Browne invited her to bring concerns to a selectmen’s meeting.

The budget committee canceled scheduled March 12 and March 14 meetings, because Sabins will be out of town – in Washington, D.C., representing Maine in her capacity as Maine Municipal Association President, Titus said approvingly. They also canceled a March 19 meeting because they had talked March 7 with most of the people invited March 19.

Their next meeting is currently scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 21, after that evening’s selectmen’s meeting. Expected attendees include representatives of the volunteer fire department; a Cemetery Committee representative to explain a request for money for software; and any social service agencies whose requests are new this year.

Posted Roads Update 2019

Dennis Heath, China town manager

from the office of Dennis Heath, China Town Manager

As most of our community business owners and farmers are aware, this is the time when our local roads are posted for no use by vehicles over a state-defined weight of 23,000 pounds. (

The exceptions are included in the state statutes here:

The resulting damage to our local roads from overweight vehicles demands that we strictly limit granting waivers. Waivers for convenience will not be issued. Use of local roads when the outside temperature is lower than 32F is permitted, but only when evidence of thaw seepage through the roadway is not visible. Please contact (207) 445-2014 with questions or emergency requests.

Declining enrollment could limit gains in state school subsidy

Vassalboro Community School. (source:

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members continued work on their 2019-2020 budget request at a special March 4 meeting, despite still lacking major figures.

Board members do not yet know what the state subsidy for schools will be this year, as state legislators consider which of several options they can afford. Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer said since the subsidy is based on the number of students, Vassalboro’s continued slow decline in school population will limit gains if legislators approve a higher subsidy.

Also uncertain is the amount needed for high-school tuition. Pfeiffer expects the amount will be around $3 million, a substantial part of the total budget. Last year Vassalboro’s school budget was about $7.7 million.

Smaller unknowns as of March 4 were insurance costs and prices for heating oil and bus fuel.

Pfeiffer pointed out that if the legislature increases the minimum wage, school spending is likely to be affected. Other legislature proposals could also change state or local school spending.

A pending local change is that the grant funding the pre-kindergarten program at Vassalboro Community School ends this year. School officials intend to continue the program, using money left over from the current year and anticipated state reimbursement.

Lacking major numbers, board members and school officials discussed smaller items, like Principal Megan Allen’s offer of about $8,300 reductions in new teaching-related expenditures.

Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur estimated that only about 30 percent of the school budget is subject to the board’s and voters’ discretion; the rest is fixed by contracts or necessity. He anticipates an increase in the total budget, no matter how closely board members study it.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, March 19. A joint meeting of the School Board and Budget Committee is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday evening, March 26, at the school.

Planners give thumbs up to school gym expansion

photo source:

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members have unanimously approved an enlargement of the China Middle School gymnasium. RSU (Regional School Unit) #18 Superintendent Carl Gartley said he hopes work will start as soon as school ends in June and be mostly done when school reopens in September, though it might run into October.

At the Feb. 26 China Planning Board meeting, Gartley, engineer Blaine Buck, of Cordjia Capital Projects Group, and architect Mike Sealander, of Sealander Architects, presented project plans.

The addition will be on the west side of the gym, toward Lakeview Drive. It will run the length of the existing building, about 86 feet, and extend the building west about 26 feet. Sealander said it will cover the existing grass strip, but will not affect parking; the existing sidewalk will probably be “chewed up during construction,” but it will be replaced.

The new space will house a new stage, two teachers’ offices and a practice room, plus a storage room and under-the-stage chair storage. There will be room for bleachers in front of the new stage.

The present stage and related rooms will become boys’ and girls’ locker rooms and provide additional bathrooms and a shower that Sealander sees being welcomed by referees.

Gartley said the middle school building is slated for additional work as separate projects, including providing LED lighting indoors and outdoors, repairing the roof and updating the air handling system. Funding will come from the RSU #18 bond issue voters approved in 2018, he said.

Planning board members decided they did not need to hold a public hearing before acting on the application. Gartley commented that redoing the gym has been discussed informally in town for many years, and Board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo observed that there was no audience at the board meeting.

Review of the ordinance criteria found the project meets all of them. Codes Officer Paul Mitnik said he is satisfied it also meets requirements of China’s Phosphorus Control Ordinance.

The next planning board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, March 26, unless Mitnik receives one or more applications (he does not anticipate any) in time to schedule a March 12 meeting.

Selectmen OK two TIF board recommendations

by Mary Grow

At their March 4 meeting, China selectmen unanimously approved two Feb. 25 recommendations from the TIF (Tax Increment Finance) Committee. They authorized Town Manager Dennis Heath to negotiate with Susan Bailey to buy her small piece of land across Causeway Street from the boat landing, and to pay a bill from Comprehensive Land Technologies for the new bridge west of the boat landing.

The Bailey lot is currently used for boaters’ parking; voters approved buying it to continue the use. Heath said the causeway project account still has more than $75,000 to complete the bridge work, including a final paving coat and changes to guardrails.

Another decision selectman made was to approve Heath’s recommendation that the town clerk be designated as the town manager’s alternate should he be out of town or otherwise unable to transact daily business. When Selectman Jeffrey LaVerdiere worried that a hypothetical future town clerk might be less trusted than Rebecca Hapgood, Heath reminded the board that they choose the clerk.

In other business, Heath told board members he has ordered new chairs for them, since the current ones are at least 10 years old, and a larger screen and new projector for the meeting room. Selectman Ronald Breton’s request for a new table, round or perhaps V-shaped so board members could see each other more easily, was discussed, but no action was taken.

Breton proposed another idea that was discussed without action: recommending a town ban on plastic bags, because so many other Maine municipalities are doing so.

LaVerdiere, who owns a retail store outside China Village, opposed a ban; it would increase prices, he said, because alternatives are more expensive. He said he reuses plastic bags as long as they last and commented that when he helps with roadside clean-ups he sees fewer than in the past.

Board Chairman Robert MacFarland said if retail-size plastic bags are banned, garbage bags should be, too: “They’re made out of plastic, and they’re four times as big.” His comment sparked a brief non-serious discussion of other plastic items that could be included in any ban.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is currently scheduled for Monday evening, March 18.

TIF committee gives manager OK on land offer

by Mary Grow

China TIF (Tax Increment Finance) Committee members held a short Feb. 25 meeting, with decisions made on two agenda items and absences blocking progress on two others.

By unanimous votes, committee members:

  • Authorized Town Manager Dennis Heath to request that selectmen make an offer to Susan Bailey for the small piece of land across from the boat landing at the head of China Lake’s east basin, based on a real estate agent’s opinion of a fair value. Committee member H. David Cotta suggested any purchase be made conditional on state approval to continue to use the space for boat landing parking.
  • Authorized a request to selectmen to approve a payment on the Causeway Street replacement bridge just west of the boat landing. Heath said a little over $75,000 will be left to cover final paving and other remaining work.

Committee members expected someone from Kennebec Valley Council of Governments to attend the meeting to discuss KVCOG’s role in the proposed revolving loan fund, but no one came.

As committee member Any Gartley explained the plan, China will offer supplementary loans from TIF money to people needing a few thousand dollars in additional resources to open a new business, expand a business or otherwise add to economic development in town.

A subcommittee including TIF Committee and budget committee members has been working on the program. They envision a resident filling out an application that is reviewed by the subcommittee and the full TIF Committee and approved by selectmen. KVCOG staff would help with the mechanics of executing the loan.

So far, Gartley said, there is no final application form.

TIF Committee Chairman Frank Soares is ready to start planning for the second phase of the causeway project, intended to create improved recreational access along the shore between the bridge and the boat landing. However, he is waiting for the return from Florida of committee member Tom Michaud, head of the subcommittee that oversaw the bridge work.

China’s TIF money comes from taxes assessed on Central Maine Power Company’s transmission line that runs through town and the substation in South China.

Committee members scheduled their next meeting for 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 25.

Vassalboro selectmen ready to forward budget to committee

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen wrestled with the 2019-2020 municipal budget for three hours at their Feb. 21 meeting. They concluded they were ready to forward it to the budget committee, whose members will review the selectmen’s figures before a final budget goes to voters at the annual town meeting in June.

The first budget committee meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 5. On Thursday, March 7, the selectmen meet at 6 p.m. and the budget committee at 7 p.m., the latter to begin discussions with town department heads. Interested residents are welcome at all three meetings.

Representatives of the town Public Works Department and the volunteer fire department attended the Feb. 21 selectmen’s meeting to talk about their budget requests.

Among the many public works topics covered were paving plans for this summer; repairs to a large culvert on Cross Hill Road, currently on hold while the state Department of Environmental Protection reviews the situation; planned vehicle repairs and replacements; adding a half-time employee, who might also work half-time at the transfer station; and how to make Foreman Eugene Field’s computer talk to his copier.

At a future meeting, selectmen intend to discuss sidewalks, in relation to the state’s planned rebuilding of Route 32 (Main Street in East and North Vassalboro). Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus said the most recent proposed date for the project is 2021 or 2022.

Board members want to consider the need for sidewalks in both villages, including the possibility of asking that the existing North Vassalboro sidewalks be eliminated. Titus, who lives in North Vassalboro, said they are not used much.

Selectmen made one unanimous decision on public works, authorizing Field to buy a new power washer from Motor Supply out of the current year’s budget without going through a bid process. Field presented five price quotes and expressed his preference for Motor Supply.

Another budget topic was salary increases for town employees, which have fallen below comparable averages in the Maine Municipal Association’s salary survey. Titus remembered that a few years ago, selectmen chose a three-year plan to bring salaries up; by the end of the three years, enough other towns had increased theirs to leave Vassalboro again toward the low end of the scale. A decision was postponed for discussion with the budget committee.

Solid waste management, another major budget item, was not ready for discussion, because bids for hauling trash are not due until Feb. 28. This year’s bid documents invite bidders to propose alternative hauling methods to the 50-yard containers the town now uses, making costs potentially more variable than usual. Town Manager Mary Sabins said two bids had already been received.

Police Chief Mark Brown hopes for a new vehicle, as the current one needs frequent repairs, Sabins said. Selectmen tentatively planned to buy a new vehicle, financing it over three years, and to reduce Brown’s recommended repair budget for next year.

Board member John Melrose proposed a brand-new expenditure: $1,000 to refurbish the memorial in East Vassalboro as “a centerpiece” for observances celebrating the town’s 250th anniversary in 2021.

China selectmen put warrant in final form

by Mary Grow

China selectmen put a 31-article warrant for the April 6 town business meeting in final form at their Feb. 19 meeting, though Town Manager Dennis Heath made a couple of minor wording changes after the meeting.

The town meeting opens at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 6, at China Middle School. At 8:50 a.m. Selectman Irene Belanger is scheduled to make the annual presentation of Spirit of America awards recognizing volunteers in town.

Most of the questions ask voters to approve appropriations for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2019, and ends June 30, 2020. The articles contain summaries; voters seeking details are referred to a “budget book” about 15 pages long that will be part of the 2017 town report.

For example, the warrant asks voters to approve more than $686,000 for the administration and administration other accounts. The budget book lists the 42 separate items in the two accounts and the revenues, including taxation, to be used to fund them.

The town report is usually available at least a week before town meeting.

Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood said the quorum requirement to open the meeting is 119 registered voters. She and Heath have joked about expecting all 1,241 residents who voted last November not to repeal the town’s Quorum Ordinance to show up at the meeting.

Before approving the warrant selectmen discussed yet again the volunteer fire departments’ use of stipends to help defray expenses for members who respond to calls. Selectmen recommends less money for stipends than the departments requested; the budget committee recommends voters grant the full amount.

In other business Feb. 19, selectmen approved a consent agreement with Ralph and Linda Howe, doing business as Bio Renewable Fuels at 168 Dirigo Road. The lengthy agreement essentially allows the Howes to continue to operate the business with a state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit, but not to expand it without local planning board approval.

The Howes had a DEP permit for the operation when it was in Fairfield, and Heath said a renewal is pending. They also obtained local permits for two new structures and one expansion, he said.

Under the agreement, a DEP odor control plan is to be implemented and a fence built to screen part of the property. The Howes are to pay $1,500 to China to help defray legal costs, which Heath said added up to a little over $11,800 this fiscal year and last. The agreement was approved on a 3-0-1 vote, with Board Chairman Robert MacFarland abstaining because he considers the business inappropriate for a residential area. Heath said DEP staff checked some wells in the area last year and found “no cause for concern.”

Hapgood reported there are two vacancies on the planning board, the alternate seat that can be filled by a resident from any part of town and the District 3 (southeastern China) seat from which Milton Dudley recently resigned. Interested residents should apply at the town office.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, March 4, according to the calendar on the town website.

Board begins preliminary school budget review

Vassalboro Community School. (source:

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members began review of the preliminary 2019-2020 school budget at their Feb. 12 meeting, despite missing several major pieces.

Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer, Principal Megan Allen and personnel from what used to be the Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) #92 office presented four budget categories: athletics, special services, district technology and health services.

At this early stage, the athletics budget is almost $39,000, up $3,600 from the current year; the special services budget is $1.4 million, about $39,000 lower than the current year’s; the technology budget is less than $61,000, down almost $13,000; and the health services budget is over $71,000, an increase of a little more than $1,400.

These very preliminary figures total less than $1.7 million. The current year’s total budget as approved at the June 2018 town meeting is more than $7.5 million. Major expenditures not discussed at the Feb. 12 meeting include the total instruction budget, which is tentatively over $2.8 million (including athletics), and tuition.

Pfeiffer said he has the state-set tuition rates for the secondary schools Vassalboro students attend, but does not yet have figures on how many students plan to attend each school next year.

The superintendent expects the special services budget to increase slightly. “Federal mandates, federal laws, the state – that’s a huge piece” of expenditures, and failure to comply invites lawsuits, Pfeiffer said.

Emphasizing that the Feb. 12 figures are preliminary and changeable, Pfeiffer asked school board members to study and think about them. The board scheduled a budget workshop for 6 p.m. Monday, March 4, before the next regular meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 19.

In other business Feb. 12, board members unanimously approved a policy on service animals at Vassalboro Community School. They accepted Pfeiffer’s offer to create procedures to go with a proposed policy on use of video cameras on school property.