Madison woman joins Sen. Collins staff

Kristin Bishop, left, and U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), at the announcement of the hiring of Bishop to the senator’s staff. (Contributed photo)

U.S. Senator Susan Collins announced that Kristin Bishop, a Madison native, has been hired as a staff assistant in her Washington, D.C., office. Kristin recently completed her fall internship in Senator Collins’ D.C. office and also served as a summer intern in her D.C. and Augusta offices. Kristin is the daughter of Frank and Vanessa Bishop of Madison.

“Kristin displayed a strong work ethic as a fall and summer intern and has an impressive record of achievement,” said Senator Collins. “I am delighted that she will continue to serve Mainers as a member of my staff in Washington, D.C.”

Kristin graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Bowdoin College in May 2018 with a degree in Government & Legal Studies and Education. While in college, Kristin was an active leader in community service organizations focusing on education and public service. As a staff assistant, Kristin will be assisting with front office duties and fielding constituent requests.

 

 

MDEA activates anonymous drug tip hotline

Maine Drug Enforcement Agency investigations many times start with a tip from the public and now the agency has a new way for citizens to forward those tips, and do so anonymously. MDEA Director Roy McKinney said the agency gets an average of two dozen tips a month from concerned Maine citizens about suspected drug activity and many of those tips results in seizures of drugs and arrests.

Developed by tip411, the Maine DEA app is available for download free via the Google Play Store, iTunes App Store, or by visiting the MDEA’s website at www.maine.gov/dps/mdea.

“Someone dies every day in Maine from a drug overdose and all communities are affected by drug use and abuse. Our partnering with tip411 brings a new investigate tool to forward information to us,” McKinney said.

The new Maine DEA app enables the public to share an anonymous tip with members of MDEA and allows agents to respond back for more information, all as an anonymous two-way conversation.

The Maine DEA app and tip411 texts utilize technology that removes all identifying information before agents see the tip, and there is no way to identify the sender.

Maine residents without a smartphone can also share information with MDEA by sending an anonymous text tip via their cell phone by texting keyword MDEA and their message/tip to 847411 (tip411). Anonymous web tips can also be submitted through the agency’s website.

MDEA’s telephones are another way to forward tips – the MDEA tip hotline – 800-452-6457, or an urgent tip can be phoned into the Maine Department of Public Safety’s communications center in Augusta – 800-452-4664.

Planning board to hold public hearing on ordinance changes

by Mary Grow

At their Jan. 15 meeting, China Planning Board members almost unscheduled, but then confirmed, their Jan. 29 public hearing on ordinance changes they would like selectmen to put on the warrant for the April 6 town business meeting.

There are three categories of changes. Board members put two of them in final form Jan. 15: proposed revisions to the definitions section of the Land Development Code and what they have called “the easy changes,” more formally described as “immediate changes to the Land Development Code to eliminate wording conflicts and ambiguities,” recommended by Codes Officer Paul Mitnik.

Later, Mitnik emailed to board members proposed amendments to sections on fees in the Subdivision Ordinance.

Planning board members are not asking voters to consider changes to the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance that are required to bring China’s ordinance into conformity with state standards. Mitnik said the state will not approve the local ordinance until those changes, too, are made.

The result of the past months of board activity is many pages of ordinances with changes scattered throughout. Mitnik and board members plan to explain them to interested residents at the Jan. 29 hearing, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Since the board of selectmen and the comprehensive planning committee are tentatively scheduled to meet the same evening, meeting places remain to be determined.

Jean Conway, for the comprehensive planning committee, gave planning board members a brief progress report at the Jan. 15 meeting. The committee has reviewed about eight chapters of the town’s comprehensive plan and has obtained updated statistics in relevant areas, she said.

A public meeting to seek residents’ suggestions and recommendations is to be scheduled this spring.

In the only other business Jan. 15, Mitnik reported that no work had been done to develop The Pines at Hunter Brook subdivision off McCaslin Road, approved in 2008. Since work was not started, the subdivision permit expired in 2013 and is void. He and board members will send a statement to that effect to the Registry of Deeds.

The result of the past months of board activity is many pages of ordinances with changes scattered throughout. Mitnik and board members plan to explain them to interested residents at the Jan. 29 hearing, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the town office meeting room.

Selectmen presented with preliminary warrant

by Mary Grow

CHINA — The preliminary warrant for the April 6 town business meeting presented to China selectmen at their Jan. 17 budget workshop looks different from previous years’ warrants.

Town Manager Dennis Heath has reorganized expenditure requests into 18 articles (numbers 3 through 20 in the first draft). Some have familiar titles, like assessing, legal expenses, the transfer station and public works. Others are new combinations, like boards and committees and community support organizations.

Under each article are the usual lines for recommendations from the selectboard and budget committee. This year there is space to record each body’s vote so voters can tell whether it was unanimous.

More important, the warrant lists no details about the proposed expenditures. By contrast, in the March 2018 warrant, fire and rescue (Art. 13) took up most of a printed page, with the individual fire departments, China Rescue, stipends and dispatching listed separately.

Nor does the warrant list potential funding sources, like excise tax or unassigned fund balance.

Instead, a blanket statement before Art. 3 reads: “For Articles 3 through 20, please refer to the ‘annual budget’ included in the town report.” The town report is usually available at the town office and other public places a week or more before the town business meeting.

For the Jan. 17 selectmen’s workshop Heath had a detailed breakdown of each article that allowed board members to review proposed spending item by item. During the more than three-and-a-half hour meeting selectmen approved most items and recommended small changes in others.

Changes in spending Heath suggested included setting aside $25,000 toward the cost of a future town revaluation (the last one was in 2008, he said); increasing expenditures for dispatching emergency services in anticipation of the much-discussed regional change; appropriating $50,000 to rebuild the transfer station capital reserve account, depleted by the new precrusher-compactor and forklift; and appropriating a similar amount to rebuild the accrued compensation fund, depleted by departures of two long-term employees, former Town Manager Dan L’Heureux and public works head Gary Cummings.

The two longest discussions of the evening were with South China Fire Chief Richard Morse, China Village Chief Timothy Theriault and other firefighters and with Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers.

Selectboard Chairman Robert MacFarland wants the fire departments to give selectmen the stipend amount each volunteer receives, by name, for responding to calls. The firefighters saw no need to provide such detailed information, but reluctantly agreed to have it for the selectmen’s next budget meeting, scheduled for Jan. 29.

Hudson asked the town for $100,000 for two years’ work on the Alewife Restoration Initiative (ARI), aimed at reintroducing migratory alewives into China Lake. The money would be used toward the planned fishway at the Outlet Dam in Vassalboro, she said.

Selectmen would prefer a smaller request, perhaps for one year’s work. The issue was left open.

Currently the state trucks alewives into China Lake in the spring and they make their way out in the fall. Some of the groups involved in area lake restoration work credit them for helping improve water quality in China Lake and Three Mile Pond.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting was set for Tuesday evening, Jan. 22, with the budget committee to meet the following evening and the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Committee at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28. After the budget committee and TIF Committee make their 2019-2020 recommendations, selectmen will have the information they need to approve the town meeting warrant. They have scheduled a meeting for that purpose for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5.

Vassalboro town manager new MMA president

Vassalboro town manager Mary Sabins, new MMA president

Mary Sabins, town manager in Vassalboro, recently ascended to the position of president of the Maine Municipal Association’s Executive Committee. Christine Landes, city manager in Gardiner, is MMA’s new vice president.

Sabins took over her duties of MMA president effective Dec. 3, 2018, leading the 12-member committee that steers MMA on operational and budgeting priorities.

Upon her swearing in, Sabins reaffirmed MMA’s commitments to restoring the Municipal Revenue Sharing Program, increasing education funding from the state and improving local and state infrastructure, from roads, highways and bridges to broadband Internet capability.

Sabins noted that a new governor and Legislature in Maine provide an opportunity to cement a positive municipal-state partnership.

“We hope that eventually leads to the re-establishment of the Municipal Advisory Council,” which could work closely with Gov. Janet Mills and her administration, Sabins said. “The council will give a voice to the needs of Maine municipalities of all sizes.”

Sabins, of Vassalboro, previously served as MMA vice president. In that role, she led MMA’s 70-member Legislative Policy Committee, which directs the organization on legislative issues and priorities. As a matter of succession, Landes, of Gardiner, will lead the LPC this year. Landes is scheduled to become MMA’s president in January 2020.

Sabins’ municipal experience is extensive. Before taking the position of town manager with Vassalboro in 2008, Sabins previously held various municipal positions in the towns of Chelsea, Windsor, Union and Hope. She also worked as facilities and food director with the former Maine School Administrative District #40 in Warren. Sabins is a University of Maine graduate with a degree in business administration.

Landes was first appointed to the MMA Executive Committee in 2016.

She became the city manager in Gardiner in August 2018, having previously served as Bethel’s town manager from 2014-2018. She previously was a deputy city clerk in Brewer, deputy town clerk in Veazie, deputy tax collector in Orange Park, Florida, and town clerk in Warren.

Landes recently earned a master’s of business administration degree from Southern New Hampshire University. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration from the University of Maine at Augusta.

Board denies reduced valuation to ReVision Energy

The solar farm located on Rte. 32 North, in China. (Photo by Roland Hallee)

by Mary Grow

On a 2-1 vote, the China Board of Assessment Review denied a request to reduce the valuation on ReVision Energy’s community solar farm at Three Level Farm on Route 32 North.

Four board members heard three hours of argument on the subject at a Dec. 18 meeting (see this article from Jan. 3). Three met again Jan. 10 to make a decision (the fourth person was out of state).

Chairman Dale Peabody began by establishing that no board member had a conflict of interest in acting on the project. He then reviewed the criteria for a successful appeal: the burden of proof is on the appellant (ReVision Energy in this case), who must prove the assessment was “manifestly wrong” in that it was either completely unreasonable or fraudulent, dishonest or illegal.

In addition, Peabody said, the appellant is required to provide an alternative valuation supported by credible evidence.

Peabody and fellow board member Harold Charles did not believe ReVision Energy met either requirement. They questioned the company’s figures on depreciation and on the end-date for the project and its final value; and they found the company’s belief that taxes should equal to no more than five percent of income unsupported.

Peabody added that the local board’s task was difficult, because there are not yet established criteria for making decisions about the value of community solar farms. He recommended companies and assessors get together and try to agree on some basic elements.

Meanwhile, he said, he found no evidence in ReVision’s presentation that assessor William Van Tuinen’s valuation was manifestly wrong.

Board member Sheri Wilkens voted against rejecting the appeal. She agreed that ReVision’s proposed cap on taxes was not adequately supported, but wanted a scientific basis for the varying figures presented on depreciation and final value.

Van Tuinen had never before valued a community solar farm, she pointed out, while ReVision brought an expert to the December meeting to defend its figures, Chief Counsel and Director of Development Steve Hinchman.

Expert, Charles agreed, but also “the guy who’s selling the thing.”

The difference in valuation is significant: Van Tuinen valued the community solar farm at about $275,000, while working backwards from ReVision’s five percent tax rate gives a valuation of less than $91,000.

Kristin Collins, ReVision’s attorney, said at the end of the Jan. 10 meeting that her client would wait to see the written document denying the appeal, with its statement of facts, before deciding whether to continue to court.

Manager presents proposed 2019 budget at meeting

by Mary Grow

At a Jan. 11 meeting, China Town Manager Dennis Heath presented selectmen and budget committee members with proposed municipal budget articles for the April 6 town business meeting.

The manager’s draft rearranges expenditure requests into what he sees as logical categories. One result is fewer articles.

For example, instead of a warrant article asking voters to appropriate funds for insurance (Art. 15 in the 2018 warrant), insurance costs are listed as part of each department’s expenses, as a line item in requests for the police department, public works, fire and rescue services and transfer station.

Town boards and committees are together in one proposed article. It includes a new parks committee, based on Heath’s recommendation to rename the Thurston Park II Committee and give it jurisdiction over both Thurston Park and the school forest behind China Primary School.

Out-of-town social services are combined in one article, in-town “Community support organizations” in another.

Street signs and street lights, which had a separate article in past years (Art. 20 in 2018), are listed under public works. Heath said a proposed increase in street light expenses from $7,200 to $10,000 is in anticipation of additional lights on the causeway at the head of China Lake’s east basin and in “other parts of town where appropriate.” Heath also advises changes in both the use of TIF (Tax Increment Finance) money and the presentation of TIF warrant articles. One article deleted after many years is the request to give part of the snowmobile registration tax refund from the state to the China Four Seasons Club (Art. 21 in 2018). Heath said since town money is not being appropriated, he thinks the article is unnecessary.

In an introduction to the budget document, Heath explained that he asked heads of town departments to help develop it.

He predicted the effect of the proposed municipal budget on the tax rate will be a small increase, about 35 cents for each $1,000 of valuation, but quickly added that until the school and county requests are known, no accurate prediction is possible. The town meeting warrant is also likely to include proposed ordinance amendments presented by the planning board. A public hearing on the changes is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Future budget discussions include a selectmen’s workshop at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, and a budget committee meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23. The next regular selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22.

Selectmen and budget committee members discussed two other changes in the town meeting warrant.

They agreed the selectmen’s and budget committee recommendations that follow articles will give the number of votes in each group – instead of saying simply “Select Board recommends yes,” the line will add the number of board members voting yes and no.

They are considering eliminating or moving to the end of the warrant the speeches and presentations that delay the start of voting and often duplicate information in the annual town report.

Selectmen discuss public works, transfer station at length

by Mary Grow

Much of the China selectmen’s Jan. 7 meeting was devoted to discussion of public works and the transfer station.

Town Manager Dennis Heath and public works employee Shawn Reed announced that Gary Cummings is leaving this week after 18 years of service to the town. Heath showed selectmen the certificate of appreciation to be presented to Cummings.

Board members unanimously authorized purchase of a new roll-up door for the lower level of the transfer station hopper building, replacing a 25-year-old door Reed said is beyond further repair. The cost is just under $7,000.

They authorized Heath to get a second price quote on a new generator for the town garage on Alder Park Road to power the diesel pump, lights and doors during power outages, and to buy the lower-priced.

Reed asked for a plug in the sand shed so the town’s portable generator could be used to power that door when needed.

He told selectmen the new Ventrax tractor is here and “looks good.”

Board members and Reed held a lively discussion of the relative merits of salt and sand for winter road maintenance. Reed said the town crew uses salt; the contractor responsible for one route uses sand, because his trucks are not calibrated to measure salt distribution.

Salt is expensive to buy, hard on vehicles and potentially damaging to China Lake, selectmen said. But, Reed said, money is saved in the spring when sand doesn’t have to be swept off roads and dug out of ditches. He believes salt makes safer roads, too, except when the temperature is too low for it to take effect.

In other business, selectmen postponed action on Heath’s proposal to change the Thurston Park II Committee to the Parks Committee and give it jurisdiction over the town forest behind China Primary School, as well as over Thurston Park. Selectman Irene Belanger wanted the current committee to consider the change.

Heath said China’s 2019 town business meeting is scheduled for Saturday, April 6. Voters will be asked to approve the municipal budget for 2019-2020.

The manager was dismayed to learn from RSU (Regional School Unit) #18 Superintendent (and China resident) Carl Gartley that school officials cannot begin budget work until the state legislature sets state funding in April or perhaps later. The manager suggested selectmen ask China voters to move post-2019 town business meetings to June.

According to the China website, the next selectmen’s meeting is Monday evening, Jan. 21. The town office will be closed that day for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

China planning board reschedules meeting

by Mary Grow

The China Planning Board’s Jan. 8 meeting was canceled due to weather conditions.

The board is scheduled to meet Tuesday evening, Jan. 15, to finish proposed ordinance amendments to be submitted to voters at the April 6 town business meeting. A public hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Jan. 29.

The board normally begins meetings at 6:30 p.m.

WGN no longer available on Spectrum cable

Charter Communications, locally known as Spectrum, has been in discussions with Tribune Broadcasting, the owner of WGN America to renew our carriage agreement. At 5 p.m., Eastern Time, on Wednesday, January 2, 2019, Spectrum’s agreement to carry Tribune’s channels expired. As a result, WGN America and all associated Video On Demand content are no longer available to Spectrum customers.

According to Shelley Winchenbach, director of government affairs Charter Communications, “Tribune asked for a dramatic increase in fees (200 percent) which we believe is completely unjustified. We regret the impact of Tribune’s decision, and we remain optimistic that this matter will be resolved quickly so our customers can again receive Tribune programming.”

For more information please visit www.tribunefairdeal.com.