New location for Candy Hollow in Oakland

Candy Hollow owners Jason and Lydia Stevens pose with their children on the occasion of their relocation to 54 Main St., in Oakland. (photo courtesy of Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce)

The Candy Hollow, in Oakland, has moved to a new location at 54 Main St.

Owners Jason and Lydia Stevens opened at their new location on December 6, 2019.

The recent ribbon cutting at Candy Hollow’s new location.

Vassalboro selectmen discuss delinquent personal property taxes

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen started the new calendar year with a short Jan. 9 meeting that left them satisfied with most items discussed.

The main dissatisfaction is with residents who ignore the state law requiring payment of personal property taxes on business equipment, from bulldozers to computers. Town Manager Mary Sabins is investigating the merits of taking scofflaws to small claims court.

Town Manager Mary Sabins is investigating the merits of taking scofflaws to small claims court.

She learned that claims must be filed within six years. On her recommendation, selectmen wrote off almost $6,000 in older unpaid taxes.

They made no decision on whether taking people to court would be worth the time and cost. A dozen people are on the overdue list, including two whose older taxes were written off as uncollectible.

Sabins said she reminds people who owe personal property tax at intervals. Some, she said, appreciate the reminder and pay the tax; others she suspects throw away her notices.

Selectmen met in a meeting room lined with file cabinets and supplies moved from the utility room, which was flooded by a boiler malfunction just before the Christmas holiday. Repairs are expected to take another month.

Sabins explained that plumbing and electrical work are needed, as well as replacement of an unknown area of sheetrock. The town office will be closed Friday, Jan. 17, for computer system maintenance and Monday, Jan. 20, for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday; Sabins expects some of the work to be done those days.

In other business, the two selectmen present unanimously accepted Sabins’ suggestion that she apply for a bank credit card in the town’s name.

They unanimously approved two junkyard permits recommended by Codes Enforcement Officer Paul Mitnik, for Olin C. and Olin J. Charette, of Weeks Mills Garage, and Roger Pomerleau, of RAP, both on Riverside Drive.

Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus commented that with the new LED streetlights installed last fall, “We’ve got some nice savings.”

Board member John Melrose reported the Solar Array Committee plans to have a request for proposals for installing solar power in Vassalboro ready for selectmen’s review at their next meeting, scheduled for Thursday evening, Jan. 23.

CHINA: Budget draft renews conflict with fire departments

by Mary Grow

The special China selectmen’s meeting Jan. 7, called to discuss the town conflict of interest policy and to give board members their copies of Town Manager Dennis Heath’s draft 2020-21 budget, turned out to be yet another round in the months-long argument between town officials and the volunteer fire departments.

Heath, recovering from surgery for a broken ankle, was absent, leaving board Chairman Ronald Breton the spokesman for the town side. Town Attorney Amanda Meader and Budget Committee Chairman Robert Batteese were major participants in the discussion.

At issue, still, was payment of stipends to volunteer firefighters as a contribution toward their expenses.

At issue, still, was payment of stipends to volunteer firefighters as a contribution toward their expenses. In the current year’s budget, stipends were included in the fire department and China Rescue account. Town meeting voters approved a total fire and rescue budget larger than either the selectmen or the budget committee requested, specifically to cover the amount the departments sought for stipends.

Heath questions the legality of using tax money for stipends for volunteers. Over the last year and a half, he has sought opinions from the state and federal labor departments. State officials approved a plan presented by the firefighters, Heath said in a post-meeting email; federal labor officials have not replied.

The main argument Jan. 7 was over whether members of the budget committee who are firefighters, or whose family members are firefighters, will be in conflict of interest if they vote on whether to recommend voters approve stipends.

China’s Administrative Code of Ethics bars any appointed or elected official from participating in any way in deciding on an item “in which he or she or a member of his or her immediate family has a financial or special interest, other than an interest shared by the public generally.”

Attorney Meader said the wording clearly bars a budget committee member from voting on a recommendation to fund stipends if he (or she) or an immediate family member might get one, even though the amounts involved are small and even though town meeting voters approve. The point, she said, is “to maintain public trust and public confidence.”

Breton defines the situation as volunteers in a nonprofit organization getting public money, disbursed through the fire chiefs without voters knowing who gets how much.

“Benefiting the general public,” Batteese interjected.

Breton said he believes in the proposed 2020-2021 budget firefighters’ stipends are not in the fire and rescue account, but under the community support organizations account, which in the current year includes libraries, historical buildings, some lake protection work and The Town Line newspaper. However, since the budget was not handed out until the end of the meeting, his opinion was not confirmed.

Batteese said he joined the volunteer fire department soon after moving to China in 1984. He was elected to the budget committee in 1987 and has been its chairman since 1995. The committee has made annual recommendations on the town budget, including fire department funding, and he thinks there has never been a conflict.

Breton said if Batteese disagreed with Meader and found no conflict, Breton had the power to overrule Batteese. Batteese disagreed.

Budget committee member Tom Rumpf said most committee members are also fire department members or have relatives who are.

The Jan. 7 conclusions were that there should be some way to help firefighters without using the word “stipends,” even though, Breton said, everyone would know what the money was intended for; and, at Meader’s suggestion, that discussion should be suspended until the budget accounts were available. Breton promised another meeting if needed once selectmen start budget consideration.

A related, shorter argument was over whether a member of the Four Seasons Club – Rumpf is its president – could vote on a town grant to the club. He has applied for funding from China’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund for trail work and an equipment storage building.

Meader said conflict of interest applies to individuals, not to organizations. Asked if Four Seasons Club members are paid, Rumpf laughed. But, he asked, would a landowner whose land value was increased by Four Seasons Club trail improvements be considered as benefiting?

On yet another related topic, Batteese objected to Heath’s proposed budget review schedule, which called for the budget committee to make recommendations on Jan. 23 and the selectmen on Jan. 30. The budget committee, Batteese said, is supposed to review and endorse or change the selectmen’s recommended budget.

In past years, selectmen have held one or more meetings to make their recommendations, often including at least one joint meeting with the budget committee; the budget committee has made it recommendations; and selectmen have had a final meeting to approve the town business meeting warrant. If the two boards disagree, selectmen either accept the budget committee figure or put both recommendations in the warrant for voters to consider.

After an exchange of emails, on Jan. 13 Hapgood announced the following schedule: Tuesday, Jan. 21, regular selectmen’s meeting (moved from the usual Monday due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday); Monday, Jan. 27, special selectmen’s meeting to discuss the 2020-2021 budget; Thursday, Jan. 30, budget committee meeting; and Monday, Feb. 3, regular selectmen’s meeting. The budget committee meets at 7 p.m., the selectmen at 6:30 p.m.

Military widow’s tax repeal signed into law

James Troiola, chairman of the American Legion’s Legislative Commission, and Maine Senator Susan Collins. (contributed photo)

U.S. Senator Susan Collins recently met with James Troiola, a resident of Windham and the Chairman of The American Legion’s Legislative Commis­sion, in her Washington, D.C., office.

“For more than a century, the American Legion has been committed to ensuring veterans and their families have access to the care and resources they have earned and deserve,” said Senator Collins. “As the Chairman of the American Legion’s Legislative Commission, James is devoted to improving services for veterans across Maine and the nation. I look forward to working with him to ensure our government continues to support our veterans.”

As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Collins secured important funding to improve rural veterans’ access to health care, support veteran caregivers, and decrease veteran homelessness in the final funding package.

Last month, Senators Collins and Doug Jones (D-AL) announced their legislation to repeal the military widow’s tax had been signed into law as part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The American Legion is the largest wartime veterans service organization with 2.4 million members in more than 12,000 posts in nearly every community in America. The Legion, established by an act of Congress in 1919, was instrumental in getting the original GI Bill through Congress and in the creation of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

KVCOG hires new environmental planner and inaugural membership coodinator

Left, Gabe Gauvin, KVCOG Environmental Planner, and right, Kate Raymond KVCOG Membership Coordinator.

The Kennebec Valley Council of Governments (KVCOG) is excited to announce that Gabe Gauvin and Kathryn (Kate) Raymond have joined the team!

“My passion for sustainability and waste stream management comes from my time researching the environmental and economic impact of rural Maine recreation events,” said Gabe. “I am eager to utilize my knowledge of sustainable solutions to help KVCOG’s many communities in this significant way.”

Gabe’s background as an educator on environmental, health and economic issues in Maine, and his work in operating Single Sort Recycling programs is what has drawn him to KVCOG. Gabe holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine at Farmington in Outdoor Recreation & Business with a concentration in Environmental Sustainability.

“I am honored to serve KVCOG in such an important role and excited to be returning to my roots in the Kennebec Valley. Together with the KVCOG team, I look forward to working with our many member communities to enhance the region and the lives of those who live here in significant and meaningful ways,” said Kate.

Kate comes to KVCOG with more than ten years of professional non-profit, membership development, and public sector experience. Most recently, Kate has served Maine Historical Society in Portland, ME, as their Donor Relations Manager. She has also served as Membership Program Manager at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, MA, as Interim Office Manager at Old Fort Western in Augusta, ME, and has years of experience working for the Maine State Parks System and the Maine Public Utilities Commission. Kate holds an M.A. from the University of New Hampshire, and B.A. from the University of Maine.

“I am thrilled to have Gabe and Kate join the KVCOG team. They both bring with them a wealth of expertise and experience and their work will enhance the region and the lives of those who live here in significant and meaningful ways” said Laura Cyr, Executive Director, KVCOG.

China selectmen adopt two new policies; transfer tags, meeting decorum

by Mary Grow

China selectmen adopted two new policies at their Jan. 6 meeting.

The one-page RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) policy for the transfer station, recommended by the Transfer Station Committee with input from town office staff, deals with the new transfer station entrance requirement that will be effective Feb. 1.

The five-page Select Board Policy, prepared by board Chairman Ronald Breton and, he said, edited by Town Manager Dennis Heath, governs conduct of selectmen’s meetings, including how members of the public are to address the board.

RFID tags are available at the town office; as of Jan. 6, Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood said 318 had been issued. The three-inch-square tags are carried in a transfer station user’s vehicle (hanging from the rearview mirror is recommended). They trigger a scanner when the vehicle comes into the facility; if the scanner is not triggered, transfer station staff can check to make sure the driver is a China or Palermo resident (Palermo shares China’s transfer station by contract) or otherwise entitled to use the facility.

The policy allocates one free tag to each China and Palermo residence or business. Unlike stickers that had to be renewed annually, tags do not expire. Additional tags are available for $10 if needed, with the $10 refunded when the tag is returned. Selectmen suggested families with several vehicles could buy extra tags; or, Hapgood said, a tenant could get a $10 tag to use while living in either town and get the $10 refunded when he or she moved away.

In response to concerns about privacy raised during earlier discussions of the RFID system, the policy says the only information collected at the transfer station will be the tag number, town, date and time. According to the earlier discussion, information linking a tag to a person will be kept in a separate file that is not a public record.

Three candidates vie for selectmen’s seat

China Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood said three candidates submitted nomination papers for the vacant seat on the Board of Selectmen: Christopher Hahn, Janet Preston and Kevin Rhoades. A special election is scheduled for Tuesday, March 3, in conjunction with the new state presidential primary.

The Select Board Policy specifies meeting dates and times; describes public notice and record-keeping procedures; describes the agenda and by whom and how items are put on it; and sets a maximum 9:30 p.m. adjournment unless the board changes it.

A person wishing to address the board during the public comment section of the meeting must have signed in and must be recognized by the chair at the appropriate time in deliberations. Speakers are limited to three minutes and may speak only once on a topic; topics are limited to agenda items; no other audience member may join the conversation unless the board chairman approves.

The policy adds that, “After a meeting is adjourned, no member of the public shall be permitted to address the select board or staff.”

People with issues they would like to have an opportunity to discuss more fully may request to be on an agenda. Oral or written requests must be submitted at least 10 days before the meeting, to allow time for research if needed. The board chairman determines which requests to grant.

Both policies were approved unanimously. During discussion of the meeting policy, the other three board members – Irene Belanger, Wayne Chadwick and Donna Mills-Stevens – expressed concern that residents might be discouraged from addressing the board by the limits on time and topics. All four selectmen agreed that they can amend the policy if it does not work as intended.

Hapgood said the policies will be added to the Town of China website.

In other business Jan. 6, Selectman Irene Belanger announced that the Thurston Park Committee welcomes volunteers to help with spring work in the park. Later, she and Four Seasons Club President Tom Rumpf discussed access to the park by club-maintained trails, with Mills-Stevens, who owns land nearby, joining the conversation. Rumpf said so far, abutters have refused permission to connect park trails to existing outside trails.

The Thurston Park Committee is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, in the former portable classroom behind the town office. Interested residents are welcome at all committee meetings.

Rumpf was at the selectmen’s meeting to report on the club’s request for TIF (Tax Increment Financing) funds for the next fiscal year. Proposed TIF expenditures will be part of the 2020-2021 budget discussions that begin this month.

Selectmen were scheduled to get the town manager’s draft of the budget at a special meeting Jan. 7. Their next regular meeting will be Tuesday evening, Jan. 21, since Jan. 20 is the Martin Luther King Day holiday.

CHINA: New police chief, patrolman selected

by Mary Grow

At a short Dec. 23 meeting, China selectmen appointed a town police chief and met and appointed a new patrolman.

Craig Johnson, who has been serving in China’s part-time police department for almost two years, is the new chief. Town Manager Dennis Heath said the appointment means Johnson will be in charge of scheduling and similar administrative matters.

Jeremy Willis, a Skowhegan police officer and Information Technology Director for Somerset County, will become a China patrol officer. Johnson, a Somerset County deputy sheriff, works with Willis and recommended him; and Heath said Maine Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty recommended Johnson as chief.

The manager again said he plans to suggest a change in local policing when he, selectmen and budget committee members begin discussion of China’s 2020-2021 budget in January. Earlier in 2019 he sought cost estimates for one full-time police officer.

China now has five police officers, Heath said, who work a total of 26 hours a week. State policemen and county sheriff’s deputies also cover the town, rotating every two weeks.

Selectmen heard two brief reports, from Tom Michaud of the Tax Increment Financing Committee on plans for work on fire roads around China Lake and from board member Wayne Chadwick on his discussion – by invitation – with fire chiefs about town funding. Chadwick emphasized that he did not speak for the board during the discussion.

According to the town website, China selectmen meet again Monday evening, Jan. 6.

VASSALBORO: School agrees to cooperate with selectmen on solar power

by Mary Grow

At their Dec. 17 meeting, Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer said, Vassalboro School Board members unanimously approved two motions to cooperate with the selectmen in developing solar power in town.

The selectmen, on recommendations from the Solar Array Committee, previously agreed to invite the school department to join them in creating a solar project and sharing the electricity it produces. Their list of possible sites included the Vassalboro Community School grounds (see The Town Line, Dec. 19).

The first motion on the school board agenda approved participating in the solar project, as authorized by town meeting vote and conditional on the school sharing cost savings.

The second approved leaving the VCS campus on the list of sites to be considered, with the school board to have final approval if the VCS land is selected.

Pfeiffer said the next step is for selectmen to choose an expert to study proposed sites and recommend the one or ones most suitable.

School board members also continued review of school policies and discussed contract negotiations with school employees.

The next regular school board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 14.

Vassalboro selectmen OK request to allow fishway construction

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen had a variety of ideas on their Dec. 12 agenda, and their reactions were similarly varied.

They unanimously approved a request from Maine Rivers (leading the Alewife Restoration Project [ARI]), represented by Matt Streeter, to sign an access and construction license agreement allowing construction of a fishway at the town-owned China Lake Outlet Dam in East Vassalboro.

Streeter said the work will be on the east bank of Outlet Stream below the dam. The Cates family has allowed access over their property.

Streeter met with representatives of several engineering firms and asked for bids on the work by Jan. 21. He expects to have a near-final design for selectmen’s review in March and a final design by the end of April to submit to the state agencies whose approval is needed.

Resident Michael Poulin asked selectmen to amend Vassalboro’s Tax Increment Financing (TF) program to allow additional uses for TIF funds. Selectmen turned the request into a unanimous decision to hire the Central Maine Growth Council to advise on amendments to the TIF that would provide wider benefits.

The TIF fund is financed by taxes paid on the gas pipeline running through Vassalboro. In recent years most available TIF funds have gone to the Vassalboro Sanitary District’s sewer extension project and ARI.

Selectmen voted unanimously to table – effectively deny – a request from resident Arthur Kingdon to endorse a proposed resolution supporting LD 1431, a Resolve to Support Municipal Recycling Programs by requiring producers of packaging to share costs of recycling it. Selectmen appreciated Kingdon’s involvement in the effort but Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus believes it would add to Maine’s reputation as a state unfriendly to business.

Turning to solar power, Selectman John Melrose reported the town’s Solar Array Committee recommends four possible sites for solar panels: behind the North Vassalboro fire station, the Vassalboro Community School grounds, the Vassalboro Sanitary District site in East Vassalboro and the town office lot west and north of the building.

Committee members suggested asking the school board to join the town in developing solar power; the school board had the item on its Dec. 17 agenda. The Vassalboro Sanitary District is also to be invited to participate.

In other business Dec. 12, selectmen unanimously approved a BYOB event at St. Bridget Center on Jan. 11.

They listed several examples of cooperative community events. Titus commended Raymond Breton and Donald Breton for their work preparing for the annual Christmas tree lighting. Melrose reported the Trails Committee is working with a rejuvenated snowmobile club. Titus added that the Vassalboro Business Association is working with multiple other town groups including the library, the Masons and the Recreation Committee.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, Jan. 9.

China TIF members recommend two expenditures

After the Dec. 9 TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee meeting, Chairman Frank Soares reported committee members recommended two expenditures of TIF money in 2020, in addition to those approved at previous meetings.

Soares said China’s Thurston Park Committee, represented by Jen Smith, requested more than $20,000 to repair trails do tree work and buy a bush hog and a beaver deceiver. The latter is a shaped fence designed to protect culverts from being converted into beaver dams.

Four Seasons Club President Tom Rumpf asked for $50,000 for bridge work on recreational trails and $25,000 to build an equipment storage and repair building, for a total of $75,000.

The next TIF Committee meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, Jan. 14.