VASSALBORO: Planners approve three applications

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members unanimously approved all three applications on their May 7 agenda, attaching a condition to one.

Permits were approved for:

  • Cornerstone Christian Fellowship on Riverside Drive to expand parking space, with work to be done in two phases.
  • Thaddeus Clark to put a mobile home on an existing slab, drill a well and later build a house on a Matthews Avenue lot that is in the shoreland zone along a small stream. None of the construction will be within 100 feet of the water.
  • Timothy Dowd to begin an indoor marijuana-growing facility in one of the old mill buildings in North Vassalboro, with the condition that Dowd will install an air filtration system that will prevent any odor from escaping the growing room.

Codes Enforcement Officer Richard Dolby said Dowd’s will be the fourth licensed marijuana-growing business in Vassalboro.

Selectmen, fire chiefs engage in heated debate over town funding

China Village Volunteer Fire Department. (Internet photo)

by Mary Grow

China selectmen and fire chiefs went another round in their months-long disagreement at the May 13 selectmen’s meeting, with considerable shouting, many contradictions, some assigning of blame and eventually a partial clarification of positions, but no resolution.

Town meeting voters annually approve money for the fire departments for operations and, in recent years, stipends for volunteer firefighters. Payment of stipends to volunteers in nonprofit organizations is regulated by state and federal laws and rules. Firefighters and selectmen have argued since last fall over their respective roles in overseeing town funds, especially stipends, though at times the argument has seemed to cover all monies the departments have from any source for any purpose.

According to the discussions, stipend money has not been disbursed according to law in the past. Dennis Heath, China’s town manager for almost a year, wants it done legally.

Palermo attorney Matt Evans came to the May 13 meeting as the firefighters’ spokesman – not their lawyer, he emphasized, or he would have worn a suit and tie. He began by asking why the firefighters were not listed as a business item rather than under reports.

Town Clerk Becky Hapgood, filling in for Heath, said she had been told to list the firefighters under reports.

Evans said he was not going to report. Instead, he asked whether the board of selectmen intended to give the three fire departments the money town meeting voters approved for them on April 6.

Board Chairman Robert MacFarland answered yes, both operational funds and money for stipends, subject to state and federal regulations – and the fight was on, because the fire chiefs believe they can obey state and federal regulations without help from selectmen.

Evans’ next question, never specifically answered, was what documentation the fire departments need to provide along with their annual requests for town funds. He asked further, what are the state and federal guidelines and who interprets them?

“You’re making up nonsensical stuff and then you’re going to enforce it on them,” Evans charged.

Evans’ presence did not prevent chiefs Bill Van Wickler (Weeks Mills), Tim Theriault (China Village) and Dick Morse (South China) from speaking for themselves.

Their position is that they are entitled to oversee their own expenditures, and the selectmen do not need to review every transaction. Van Wickler said he had found and shared as an example the guidelines formula selectmen and firefighters agreed to some months ago, and “it’s our responsibility to use the formula.

“We have all the tools we need to do this right. Trust us,” he said.

Morse agreed: the departments, not the selectmen, are responsible for obeying the law. The selectmen’s responsibility is to hand over the money town voters approved.

Selectmen’s position is that because the money in question is the taxpayers’, their responsibility is to make sure it is spent appropriately.

Board member Ronald Breton summarized toward the end of the discussion: distribution of town funds “belongs to the board” and the town manager tells the selectmen what’s legal.

Theriault, who is a state representative as well as a local fire chief, said part of the problem is that the legislature “does a bad job of making laws.” Concerning volunteers’ stipends, legislators made a law that state officials refuse to enforce.

In a two-hour conversation with the head of the Department of Labor, he learned that administration of volunteer firefighters’ stipends is ignored, because state regulators value volunteers and won’t do something that might deter them from volunteering. Breton reminded Theriault that Town Manager and Town Treasurer Heath “sees it differently, as the guy who signs the checks.”

“So maybe we need somebody with a little more common sense,” Theriault replied, touching off a short discussion of the influence of the military where Heath worked and Oklahoma where he got his governmental experience.

Van Wickler raised a side issue: selectmen have faulted firefighters for not reporting at selectmen’s meetings, but, Van Wickler asked, why should non-employees join town employees in reporting every other week?

Board Chairman Robert MacFarland retorted, “Then why do you take town money?”

Theriault reminded him that the town is responsible for providing fire protection. Town officials’ options are to create a municipal fire department, contract with another town or contract with some other party, like local volunteer firefighters’ organizations.

After three-quarters of an hour’s discussion, selectmen turned to other business, including hearing employees’ reports:

  • The town assessor is inspecting properties; he drives a white vehicle with an identifying sign.
  • Town police have been dealing with speeding complaints and will continue to do so.
  • Eleven beavers have been trapped and relocated so far and the culverts they had blocked have been or are being cleared.
  • The codes enforcement officer is available Tuesdays and Thursdays and by appointment Wednesdays and Fridays. Asked about the recently hired assistant codes officer, MacFarland replied he “didn’t work out.”

By unanimous votes, the board:

  • Approved a liquor license renewal for the China Dine-ah;
  • Accepted a petition to lower the speed limit on Village Street in South China to 35 miles an hour, a request that will be forwarded to the state transportation department; and
  • Approved police Sergeant Tracey Frost’s plan to buy three new portable radios to match those used by Kennebec County.

Since the next regular selectmen’s meeting would fall on the Memorial Day holiday, Hapgood said it is rescheduled, probably to Tuesday evening, May 28.

CHINA: Comprehensive plan meeting at Erskine

(photo credit: Erskine Academy)

The Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, in conjunction with the town of China, will be conducting a Comprehensive Plan public input session on Saturday, May 18, at Erskine Academy cafeteria, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

The workshop, titled China’s 2040 Vision, will cover major topics to include water quality of China Lake and Three Mile Pond, housing, land use development and developing a 10-year vision.

Comprehensive Planning Committee spokesman Irene Belanger stated: “The purpose of the workshop is to get a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints about what is special about China and needs to be preserved, and what needs to change and improve in the years ahead. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend. The more citizens participation, the better the vision will be.”

Following some good work from the China for a Lifetime Committee, this is a key step in the updating of the comprehensive plan for the town of China. Belanger continued, “Come talk with your neighbors and help us shape the future for China.”

All China resident are invited and encouraged to attend.

Selectmen sign proclamation for Municipal Clerks Week

Vassalboro selectmen have signed a proclamation marking the week of May 5 through May 11 as Municipal Clerks Week, recognizing the work of town clerks and their deputies.

2019 is the 50th anniversary of the annual observance, according to the proclamation. The proclamation describes the office of clerk as “the oldest among public servants,” existing world-wide as a “vital part of local government.” Clerks are recognized as a neutral professional link between citizens and their government, local, state and national, and as “the information center on functions of local government and community.”

Selectmen sign warrant for June 3, 11 town meeting

by Mary Grow

At their May 2 meeting, Vassalboro selectmen signed the warrant for the June 3 and June 11 town meeting and discussed a proposal it includes asking voters to spend $1,000 to improve Soldiers Memorial Park in East Vassalboro (Art. 27).

Selectman John Melrose came up with the park plan as part of the 2021 observance of Vassalboro’s 250th anniversary.

The tall granite statue of a Civil War soldier on a field between the East Vassalboro boat landing and the former East Vassalboro schoolhouse, now the historical society museum, would remain the centerpiece of the park. The soldier stands on a platform listing names of Vassalboro’s Civil War veterans. Melrose still hopes someone knows where the soldier’s missing rifle is and will help the town reclaim it.

Melrose’s plan calls for a handicapped-accessible walkway from Route 32 to the statue, a circular walkway around it, gardens on both sides and storyboards commemorating Vassalboro residents’ service in wars from the Revolution to Vietnam.

The process of removing dead and diseased trees and planting new ones on the school and park grounds has started, with help from Fieldstone Gardens, the public works crew and volunteers (including local beavers). Melrose plans to continue to collaborate with interested town organizations, businesses and individuals.

There was a brief discussion of moving the two monuments in front of the old town office in North Vassalboro to the park, if North Vassalboro residents are willing. The older monument recognizes Vassalboro men who served in the War of 1898 and World War I (identified as “The World War 1914-1918”), with names listed. The younger and smaller, put up by Ronco-Goodale American Legion Post #126, honors “All veterans from Vassalboro.”

The other two selectmen support Melrose’s plan.

Discussion of the land encompassing the boat landing, park and former school touched on three related issues: state plans to rebuild Route 32, including the need to define road right-of-way boundaries before planting roadside trees in the park; ARI (Alewife Restoration Initiative) plans to install a fishway at the China Lake outlet dam; and boundaries between town-owned land and land owned by the Kennebec Water District (KWD).

The June town meeting warrant includes a request to authorize selectmen to approve modifications to the dam to restore passage for alewives into China Lake.

Town Manager Mary Sabins said she and KWD officials are still negotiating renewal of the agreement under which KWD has managed the dam in return for a $1,200 annual payment from the town. KWD, under new managers, now wants to double the payment and lessen its duties.

Vassalboro’s include accepting the KWD proposal, perhaps with modifications; taking over dam management and paying KWD nothing; or, as state law allows, abandoning the dam. The assumption is that if Vassalboro abandoned the dam, self-interest would require either KWD or the Town of China to take it over, the former to maintain water levels and quality, the latter to protect the taxes paid by shoreline owners.

In other business May 2:

  • Sabins reported replacement of Vassalboro’s streetlights with LED lights is tentatively scheduled for July, August or September of this year.
  • The manager said Central Maine Disposal, the company contracted to haul Vassalboro’s trash and supply porta-potties around town, has merged with Pine Tree Waste-Casella, effective May 1. She was told there will be no immediate changes.
  • Volunteer Fire Department spokesman Michael Vashon said the value of replacing the worn-out boiler at the North Vassalboro fire station with heat pumps is questionable. He reported that with help from J. J. Wentworth of the public works department, firefighters had their hoses and ladders tested; they need to replace some hose sections and repair their longest and least-used ladder.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting will be Thursday evening, May 16. The annual town meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 3, at Vassalboro Community School, where voters will act on the first 63 warrant articles, including municipal and school budgets. The last three articles – local elections, confirmation (or rejection) of the school budget and a decision on continuing the school budget ratification vote for three more years – will be presented for a written-ballot vote on June 11. Polls at the town office will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

WINDSOR: Selectmen discuss repairing roads, electronic waste

by Sandy Isaac

On Tuesday, April 30, the Windsor’s Selectmen meeting addressed damaged roads, truck repairs and options for proper E-waste recycling.

Shortly after the meeting began at 6 p.m., Keith Hall, road supervisor, gave his report on the conditions of Windsor roads. It was noted that this winter’s weather was particularly difficult on Maine roads. Many citizens have complained of routes 105 and 32, but before any repairs can be started, roads must finish rebounding from heaves caused by the wet and frozen weather fluctuations.

The road crew has just completed fitting 80 feet of drainage and pipe inserts along Coopers Mills Road. This should help alleviate the water run-off from entering the roadway and causing slick conditions when it freezes.

Jones Road, Ingram Road and the elementary school’s round-about were discussed. Although the school is not part of Windsor’s road system, the town people are the ones who use it, so repairing that area will benefit the citizens. It was decided this would not be done until more paving material could be secured and possible repairs would happen after school has let out for the year.

Truck and back hoe repairs were brought up and reviewed. Tough winter roads wreaked havoc on town vehicles, including springs, oil cooler lines, etc.

Contractors have been contacted regarding repairing some roads, including the Windsor Road. Paving supplies have gone up in price and are very much in demand. It is expected that materials will be going up to over $70 per ton.

Currently, the road department purchases paving by the bag when making minor repairs. Major repairs will be prioritized once companies have started producing more paving materials and they are available for purchase.

Timothy Coston, transfer station supervisor, reported the need to find new companies to help with the electronic waste recycling. The previous company with which they had negotiated has gone out of business. Another company had been contacted, but they do not deal with many of the items that Windsor has to dispose of, including the compact fluorescent light bulbs which contain mercury. Most of the companies on their list do not handle bulk and so two different companies will have to be utilized.

Cemetery gates will be opened by the May 13. On May 11, flags will be placed on designated grave sites, starting at 9 a.m., at the Rest-Haven Cemetery, on Ridge Road. Requests for volunteers were made.

Public comments brought up a survey that was created by Somerville regarding marijuana ordinances and land usage. Research will be done as to how Somerville created and distributed the survey and how results are being collected and tabulated. A question came up regarding sales tax. It was mentioned the marijuana products state sales tax is 10 percent.

Town Manager Theresa Haskell reported that the nine-month budget which should be at 75 percent, is coming in under 73 percent. While some line items are over budget, such as dues and fees which have been paid for the year, she expects to come in under budget by the end of the fiscal year. A workman’s comp audit had also been completed and a refund of $1,700 was being issued back to the town.

Photos of the new forestry truck purchased by the town fire department were passed around. It has a capacity of 400 gallons of water. The old forestry truck should sell quickly as there has already been a lot of expressed interest.

The town warrants were reviewed, approved, witnessed and signed. They will then be available for the town meeting. A tentative meeting date of June 1, with an alternative date of May 31 were suggested. The school has been contacted to see what days and times would be available.

Superintendent satisfied with China schools condition

photo source: JMG.org

by Mary Grow

RSU (Regional School Unit) #18 Superintendent Carl Gartley is satisfied with conditions in China schools and the RSU as a whole.

Gartley talked about the proposed 2019-2020 budget at the next-to-last in a series of explanatory meetings in China on April 30. Voters from the five RSU towns (Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney) will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 16, at the Performing Arts Center at Messalonskee High School to vote on the budget. A budget validation referendum will be held June 11 in each town.

Twenty-two people attended the China meeting. Gartley said only half a dozen of them are not connected with town government, China schools or the RSU.

The superintendent projects an RSU budget increase of 2.86%, a little more than $1 million, to more than $38.655 million. Of that amount, $28.8 million covers salaries and benefits, according to Gartley’s figures.

Because of the formula governing how each member town pays its share of the total, Gartley said China’s assessment will go up about 5 percent. That does not mean a 5 percent tax increase, he emphasized, since the town’s tax rate also depends on how much the state contributes to education next year and how much China’s valuation changes.

When an audience member mentioned the legally required 55 percent state contribution to education, people laughed. The state has evaded the obligation ever since voters approved it by referendum in 2003.

Gartley presented charts showing that:

  • Compared to 11 other area towns and RSUs, RSU #18’s per-pupil spending is fifth from the lowest, and below the state average.
  • In reading, as measured by standard test scores (which Gartley pointed out are only one way to assess progress, but are easy to compare), RSU #18 students rank next to the top in the area, and at the state average. • In math, by the same measure, RSU #18 scores are third from the top and above the state average.

Gartley mentioned the social workers, nurses, special education staff and others who help RSU #18 tailor its school system to meet all students’ needs. The member schools offer large and varied extracurricular programs; all RSU students may use the “gorgeous” new athletic facility in Oakland.

  • “The money is being spent where it should be, [and] our kids are getting a great education,” Gartley summarized.

Manager shares info about proposed waterfront land buy

The property the Town of China is considering developing into an area for public lake access. (Photo courtesy of the China town office.)

by Mary Grow

China Town Manager Dennis Heath shared information about the proposed waterfront land purchase with TIF (Tax Increment Finance) Committee members at their May 6 meeting.

The local warrant for June 11 voting will include a request to appropriate $150,000, $125,000 from the lake access reserve fund and $25,000 from TIF funds, to buy about five acres between Lakeview Drive and the east shore of China Lake adjoining the Four Seasons Club property. The manager envisions a park with a swimming area and boat landing, well separated for safety, adjoining the Four Seasons beach.

Since selectmen approved the ballot question, Heath said, he has learned of a state program that would pay half the cost of acquiring the property. If China is eligible for state money, there would be no need to use TIF funds.

Using topographic maps, Heath made measurements of the slope between the road and lake. He figured the land descends 92 feet in the 824 feet from the road to the water.

The hill is tiered, he said, making room for two levels of parking. Heath intends to talk with Four Seasons Club President Tom Rumpf about sharing the club’s road to access the property, if voters approve the purchase.

If voters buy the land and TIF money is needed, Heath recommends expanding the TIF construction subcommittee that oversees the causeway project at the head of the lake, adding, for example, someone knowledgeable about possible effects on lake water quality.

TIF Committee Chairman Frank Soares said the committee has taken no position on the request for funds, awaiting voters’ action.

China selectmen have scheduled a public hearing on two local ballot questions, the land purchase and a request for engineering money to continue design work on an emergency services building or a community center, for 6:15 p.m. Monday. May 13.

TIF subcommittee member Tom Michaud reported briefly on the causeway project. Phase One, the new bridge, is almost done, he said, lacking only a final layer of paving and pedestrian guardrails on the bridge..

Michaud said two corrections are priorities; there is erosion around some of the rocks, and people have complained about the guardrail, which Michaud described as “unfriendly” because it makes it hard for fishermen to get near the water.

The second phase of the project involves shoreland work between the bridge and the boat landing. Currently, Michaud said, project engineers are seeking necessary permits. Committee member Amy Gartley led a discussion of the revolving loan program, intended to provide bridge loans to help small businesses in town start up or expand. H. David Cotta asked whether the town would be first or last to collect should there be multiple loans that were not repaid.

There was consensus the town, since it uses taxpayers’ money, should be at the head of the line. Heath and Gartley intend to seek advice from Town Attorney Amanda Meader and the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, which will manage the loans. Gartley hopes the loan program documents will be ready for TIF Committee approval at the next meeting, scheduled for Monday evening, June 3.

Public hearing set for May 23 on June ballot questions

by Mary Grow

China selectmen dealt with a miscellany of business at their April 29 meeting.

Town Manager Dennis Heath announced a public hearing on Monday, May 13, to discuss two June 11 local ballot questions. The hearing will be at 6:15 p.m. in the town office meeting room, before that evening’s selectmen’s meeting.

The two questions voters will answer June 11 are:

  • Whether to authorize selectmen to spend $150,000 to buy the Hall lot north of the Four Seasons Club on the east shore of China Lake to provide public lake access, using $125,000 from the lake access reserve fund and $25,000 from the TIF (Tax Increment Finance) fund; and
  • Whether to authorize selectmen to spend up to $25,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance (surplus) for engineering plans for an emergency services building or a community center on town-owned land on Lakeview Drive, opposite the former Candlewood Camps. Voters approved up to $5,000 for preliminary studies in November 2018. Drawings showing what both buildings might look like are on the town website.

Selectmen Jeffrey LaVerdiere and Ronald Breton expressed reservations about the first question. LaVerdiere said the property slopes steeply to the lake, so building a road, a parking lot and other amenities would be expensive. Breton does not want a swimming beach close to a boat landing, citing safety and parking concerns.

Heath said there might be federal and/or state grant money available. He described the lot as “tiered” and said there might be room for three levels of parking lots.

On a different topic, the manager said China’s 2019-2020 school budget might – he emphasized the uncertainty – increase by five percent. If it did, he said, the local tax rate would also have to increase.

Voters in RSU (Regional School Unit) #18 will act on the school budget May 16 in Oakland, with a confirmatory written-ballot vote on June 11.

Selectmen met two new people who will be working on behalf of the town. Shawn Reed introduced Ron Roy, newly hired in the Public Works Department; and Policeman Tracey Frost introduced Jordan Gaudet, who will join Frost and other Oakland officers working part-time in China.

Transfer Station Manager Tim Grotton said Heath had submitted the application for a recycling grant that, if awarded, would distribute recycling bins around town (see The Town Line, April 25). Heath said he is now looking into another grant to help expand broadband service in China, at a cost tentatively estimated at more than a million dollars.

The manager reported that purchase of the Bailey property at the head of China Lake across Causeway Street from the boat landing will be complete when the deed is registered. He invested an additional $1,000 for a survey, he said, and is glad he did: instead of the six or seven acres voters thought they were buying, they acquired more than 11 acres, partly swamp.

Board members informally approved Heath’s draft purchasing policy, which says the manager may make purchases up to $2,500 on his own; for anything between $2,500 and $10,000, he needs several price quotes and selectmen’s approval; and purchases over $10,000 must be by sealed bid. Final action is expected at the May 13 meeting.

China resident Fred Wiand’s presidential campaign gets send off from supporters

Democratic presidential candidate, and China resident, Fred Wiand received a send off by supporters at The Head of China Lake, on Saturday, April 6. (Photo by Sandy Isaac)

by Sandy Isaac

A group of supporters gathered at the north end of China Lake for the launch of Fred Wiand’s “Running for You” campaign tour. Fred, a resident, of China, Maine, seeks the Democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential election.

He emerged from his white recreational vehicle shortly before 1 p.m. to meet and greet the group who came to hear him speak. His RV will act as a mobile campaign office and home for the next few months.

Wiand, a retired Air Force Major, served for over 20 years active duty and was stationed in over 13 countries. He has visited all 50 states and lived in many of them, including Pennsylvania, California, Texas, New Hampshire and Maine.

He said he has been (physically) running since the ‘60s which makes him fit for the job. This was also the inspiration for calling his campaign “Running for You” and at this rate, he has no thoughts of slowing down.

After greeting the supporters Wiand stated, “I may be the dark horse, but I see a path.” He then explained that he does not plan on taking any PAC money to help fund his campaign.

PACs (Political Action Committees) allows corporations or organizations to bundle contributions from their members and channel that money to fund elections of our government officials. This is the fastest way for a candidate to raise the cash needed to run a successful campaign.

When asked if this puts him at a disadvantage, he said, “No, a huge advantage actually. Other candidates will be beholden to those who contribute to their campaign.” He promised to address campaign finance reform once elected.

Wiand went on to speak about some of the issues that he would tackle as president, like universal healthcare, gender equality and gun safety. Two of the biggest topics he elaborated on were global warming/climate change and immigration. He said, “[We] should rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement,” and spoke of looking for alternative energy sources. Solar energy, wave/tidal/ocean options, geothermal, hydroelectric and hydrogen were all areas he felt we should explore more.

Immigration is also an important topic to Wiand. He started by expressing concern for all of those fleeing other countries and “escaping with their lives.”

Wiand mapped out a plan involving working with the Mexican President to ensure a safe and secure travel route for those who wish to come and go from the United States. His plans involve creating stop-over camp sites along the refugee routes in Mexico. He then spoke of villages being built with American and Mexican labor between camp sites, establishing employment opportunities, and all the benefits that a village infrastructure would have. A similar setup could occur on the U.S. side in areas like El Centro, California, and Del Rio, Texas, just to name a few.

He went on to say that electronic surveillance would be put into place instead of a solid wall and that every vehicle must be searched for contraband, no matter how long that inspection would take at designated secure crossings.

Wiand also spoke about gun safety. He mentioned that he was a gun owner, but that military guns should be used only by the military and that better background checks were necessary. He would like to see a universal gun law in place.

The “Running for You” campaign tour will take Wiand first to Massachusetts for a speech before heading south along the coast for stops in New York. Next up will be Pennsylvania to speak at Valley Forge and Gettysburg, then south to Florida.

When asked if he had anyone in mind to be a running mate, he said, “No, not yet. They would have to be like minded politically of course, but I would look for someone to add diversity to the office.”

Wiand was then asked about his negotiating style or philosophy. He said, “You have to be open to friendly negotiations. No bullying. You have to have vision, charisma, persistence and resolve.” For example, he mentioned how President John F. Kennedy said we would have a man on the moon, and although there was push back, he made it happen.

He went on to say that he hoped Democratic voters would not become divided by a third party, stating that “I will support whoever the Democratic National Committee chooses to be their next candidate. I just hope that it will be me.”

To read more about Fred and his philosophies, please visit his website, www.fredwiand.com.