Vassalboro planners approve two applications

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members quickly and unanimously approved both shoreland zoning applications on their June 6 agenda.

Mary Rider has approval to rearrange and enlarge the deck on her family camp on Tilton Lane, on the east shore of Webber Pond. Builder Ray Breton, representing the applicant, said the planned increase in size meets ordinance requirements, and there will be no expansion toward the water.

Wendy Pietraszweski has approval to build a second house on a lot at 405 Taber Hill Road. The lot is bisected by a very small stream, which Codes Officer Richard Dolby said puts most of the land in the shoreland zone, according to state maps.

Surveyor David Wendell said the proposed house and a new septic system are located so as to meet legally-required setbacks from the water and the property lines.

Vassalboro selectmen discuss sewer expansion fundings, speeds on So. Stanley Hill Rd.

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen had only one formal public hearing on their June 13 agenda, but two issues drew extensive comment from residents in the audience.

The hearing was on disbursement of Tax Increment Finance (TIF) funds, specifically a $120,000 request from the Vassalboro Sanitary District (VSD) to help with continued work on its connection to the Waterville-Winslow sewer system.

Sanitary District Board Chairman Ray Breton said the project continues to receive grant funds, and the district expects additional future revenue as more people take advantage of new opportunities to hook onto the sewer system. One way trustees would like to use TIF money is as an incentive to help new customers with the cost of running pipes from the street to their houses.

The district intends to charge property-owners who can hook on but choose not to a small fee for having the option available, in case individual septic systems fail. Other sewer districts have similar charges, Breton said.

More revenue might make it possible to modify future rate increases, he said.

He expects the extended system will be “running by fall” and finished in 2020.

After the hearing, selectmen agreed to postpone action until the VSD provides more specific figures on pending income and expenditures. Breton had no objection to a delay.

Later in the meeting, resident Mike Poulin proposed amending Vassalboro’s TIF agreement to allow additional projects to seek funding. Selectmen tabled the issue pending more VSD information.

The second discussion was with Maine Department of Transportation Mid-Coast Area Regional Traffic Engineer David Allen, a Vassalboro resident, about the speed limit on South Stanley Hill Road between Route 32 and the intersection with Priest Hill and Lombard Dam roads.

Currently, the Route 32 end has a 30-mile-an-hour limit that changes to 45 miles an hour after less than half a mile. Residents have petitioned for a 25-mile limit in the current 30-mile zone.

Allen said by state criteria, there are two choices:

  • If the 25-mile limit is introduced, it would extend from Route 32 to about the Friends Meeting House, with the rest of the 30-mile zone increased to 35 miles an hour; or
  • The present 30-mile and 45-mile zones could remain as they are.

His goal, Allen said, is a safe road, which is not necessarily a slow road. He tries to choose the speed at which most people travel, because speed differentials are dangerous. He agreed with residents that enforcement is a problem whatever the limit.

Selectmen and Allen discussed other measures that might be helpful. The issue will reappear on a future selectmen’s agenda.

In other business:

  • Selectmen approved Road Commissioner Eugene Field’s plan to buy a 2020 Dodge plow truck from Darling’s, in Augusta, and add plowing equipment from Viking-Cives, in Lewiston, with the understanding he will report back if he finds a better deal.
  • They reviewed 10 paving bids and voted to contract with Hopkins Paving, of Hermon.
  • After discussion with Department of Environmental Protection Project Manager Matthew Young, they voted to “work with the state” to allow testing of Vassalboro’s landfill cover to see if it works better than other types of covers. Re-elected Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus voted against the motion, after describing himself as “100 percent in favor of the advancement of science” and “100 percent opposed to seeking possible problems and maybe having to remediate.”
  • Selectmen postponed action on Young’s second request, to check the landfill area for PFAs, defined by Wikipedia as “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” industrial compounds that don’t break down and might have health effects.
  • They hired Vassalboro resident Mike Petito as the new transfer station and public works employee, starting in July.
  • They authorized Codes Enforcement Officer Dick Dolby to take legal action in the case of a mobile home moved without a permit and, having lost its grandfathered status, no longer meeting local ordinance requirements.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, June 27. As in past years, they plan to meet only once a month in July and August; after June 27, their regular meetings are scheduled for July 18 and August 15.

Medical marijuana business reschedule; applicant absent

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members expected to discuss a proposed new medical marijuana business at their June 11 meeting. But applicant Clifford Glinko was absent, so there was no discussion.

Instead, Board members scheduled a July 9 public hearing on Glinko’s application to open a medical marijuana facility with a storefront at 360 Route 3, near the South China branch of Bar Harbor Bank and Trust.

In the only other business, Codes Officer Paul Mitnik reported business is picking up, after a slow spring. He issued three permits for new houses earlier in the day, he said.

Mitnik is retiring June 30. Both he and Board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo are acquainted with William Butler, hired by selectmen June 10 to succeed Mitnik. Mitnik said Butler is experienced and fully certified and “I think he’ll be good for China.”

Board members expressed their appreciation for Mitnik’s service to the town.

June 2019 local election results (China, Vassalboro, Fairfield, Benton)

by Mary Grow

CHINA

China voters rejected both spending requests on their June 11 local ballot. They re-approved the school budget initially approved at the April 6 town business meeting and voted to continue the school budget validation referendum for another three years.

Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood reported the results, as follows:

  • The request to authorize selectmen to spend up to $150,000 to buy land on Lakeview Drive with frontage on China Lake, 114 in favor and 289 opposed.
  • The request to authorize selectmen to spend up to another $25,000 to continue planning for an emergency services building and a community center, 72 in favor and 332 opposed.
  • Re-approval of the 2019-2020 school budget, 261 in favor and 139 opposed.
  • Continuing the second vote on the school budget, 265 in favor and 129 opposed.

Hapgood said 406 ballots were cast.

VASSALBORO

Vassalboro’s local ballots included uncontested municipal elections and school budget questions. Town Clerk Cathy Coyne reported a total of 101 ballots cast.

Voters re-elected Selectman Robert Browne with 98 votes and school board members Jessica Clark and Kevin Levasseur with 81 and 79 votes respectively.

The school budget approved at the June 6 open part of the annual town meeting was re-approved by a vote of 87 to 14. Voters decided to continue the school budget validation referendum for another three years on a 63 to 37 vote.

FAIRFIELD

According to municipal clerk Christine Keller, 243 votes were cast at the June 11 referendum election.

MSAD #49 school budget validation referendum:

Yes: 61 – No: 182

MSAD #49 school budget process:

Yes: 158
No: 84
Blanks: 1

BENTON

The following are the results of the MSAD #49 budget validation referendum election:

Article 1: Yes: 38 – No: 70
Article 2: Yes: 71 – No: 38

Selectmen discuss improvements, tree trimming, bridge report

by Sandy Isaac

At the May 29 Windsor Selectmen’s meeting, members discussed road, bridge and tree maintenance, purchasing a new one-ton truck and installing a diesel tank for the Public Works Department.

The meeting began with Road Supervisor Keith Hall presenting the Public Works report. He said Windsor is currently out of salt but will have to wait for funds to become available before purchasing more. The wood chipper rental is coming in and the crew has plans to chip uprooted trees, trim back limbs and shape the height on a few trees, particularly on Schumann Road and Choate Road. Road sealing has been scheduled. Some drainage pipes need to be changed but Hall needs to wait for more funds before he calls Dig Safe and schedule the work. Money for salt and road work will become available when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Last meeting, Selectmen Ray Bates brought up that Windsor needs to replace its one-ton truck. Due to rumors that Internationals and Dodges have body and transmission problems, selectmen are currently looking at Fords. Selectman Ronald Brann said one local dealer told him that Ford is not currently producing 2020 super duty models, reportedly because their contracted manufacturers gas tanks are unsatisfactory. The only dealerships that currently have any 2019 super-duties are out of state and won’t trade or sell to a local dealer.

Discussions continued about installing a diesel tank for the Public Works Department. Regulations seem to have changed so selectmen intend to contact Vassalboro to compare procedures.

Town Manager Theresa Haskell read the results from the recently completed bridge inspections. Schumann Road had some washout by the guard rail that needs to be fixed, but overall, no notable changes from the last inspection. Sampson Road bridge, Barton Stream bridge, and a few others all reported little or no change with only minor recommendations made in the report. The state maintained Choate Road and Maxcy’s Mills Road bridges were discussed as needing repair.

Transfer Station Supervisor Tim Coston was not available for the meeting. Hall gave the transfer station report and indicated some spots at the transfer station have become slippery due to the nature of the area. An anti-slip coating has been purchased but the area will need to be power washed prior to the application.

There was no report from the animal control officer or the cemetery sexton. However, Haskell mentioned that Windsor Neck Cemetery’s wood fencing is rotting, and should be replaced with a post and chain structure similar to the other cemeteries in town. Before the changes are made, the town will need to buy more poles and chains. The poison ivy in that area will have to be addressed before any employee does the repair.

Public comments came from Windsor Planning Board member Jerry Nault. Nault has been attending Somerville Planning Board meetings where they discussed their research of marijuana guidelines. He reported that Somerville prepared a survey and sent out 350 postcards inviting residents to complete it either electronically or on paper, approximately half replied electronically. The survey showed that residents overwhelmingly oppose marijuana social clubs.

Selectmen expect state legislators to address marijuana regulation before their summer recess. Assuming they do, Somerville selectmen will probably schedule public hearings and a town vote. Depending on the outcome of the vote, the planning board might need to amend the town’s zoning and land use ordinances.

Nault said the Somerville board did not plan to meet again until July when he will again be welcomed to attend. The Windsor Planning Board is waiting for more information before taking any action.

The next Windsor selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for June 11, at 6 p.m.

Solar power tops action at town meeting

by Mary Grow

Guided by veteran moderator Richard Thompson, 81 registered voters, according to Town Clerk Cathy Coyne, took less than two hours to approve the first 63 articles of their June 3 and June 11 town meeting warrant as presented. The meeting is now in recess until 8 a.m. Tuesday, June 11, when polls open in the town office for written-ballot action on the final three articles.

The longest discussion during the open meeting was over the selectmen’s request for authority to enter into an agreement to have solar power installed. Selectman John Melrose explained that by approving the article, voters authorized selectmen to go through with an idea they have discussed for several years. In answer to voters’ questions, Melrose said:

  • Any solar installation would be on town-owned land, with the lawn at the town garage a possibility but not necessarily the final choice.
  • According to the plan considered in the past, there would be no upfront cost to the town; money would be taken from savings in the electric bill until the project was paid off, probably in around six years.
  • The warrant article required any solar array to provide power for Vassalboro’s two fire stations, the town office and the Historical Society building (formerly the East Vassalboro School) at a minimum; Vassalboro Community School, the transfer station or other town buildings are not necessarily excluded.
  • Solar-generated power would feed into Central Maine Power Company’s system and be credited to Vassalboro; there would not be new lines from the solar array to town buildings.
    Other new proposals approved with little or no discussion included:
  • Seeking grants and using supplemental town funds to install a generator at Vassalboro Community School, so it could be used as an emergency shelter.
  • Using up to $1,000 in tax money plus grants and donations to improve Soldiers Memorial Park, in East Vassalboro, with a plan to rededicate it during the town’s 250th anniversary observance in 2020. The statue of a soldier in the park is missing its rifle; Town Manager Mary Sabins appealed to anyone who knows where it is to contact the town office.
  • Acquiring the lot on which the Riverside Fire Station stands from the Riverside Hose Company, to whom it was given many years ago conditional on use for a fire station.
  • Allowing selectmen to approve modifications to the China Lake Outlet Dam, which the town owns, as part of the Alewife Restoration Project (ARI). Resident and Department of Marine Resources employee Nate Gray estimated the planned fishway at the dam would cost somewhere around $370,000. Sabins explained that the vote does not mean the town pays $370,000; ARI is funded through grants and donations, including annual donations from the town. Voters approved $47,500 for ARI for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Voters authorized buying a new plow truck and a new police cruiser. During discussion of the cruiser, speeding problems on town roads and Police Chief Mark Brown’s duties, one resident expressed the hope that people driving to and from the Criminal Justice Academy would slow down.

Routine articles funding the various town departments were passed with little or no discussion. The transfer station request led former Selectboard member Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell to ask whether local recycling would return.

Current Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus replied, “Libby, when I joined you as a selectperson, I didn’t know how much I’d learn about trash. Now I can talk trash with the best of ‘em.”

Titus went on to the explain that all Vassalboro trash, “to our dismay” is landfilled until the Coastal Resources plant in Hampden opens, probably in July. Once the plant is fully operational, Coastal Resources “will do our recycling for us,” he said.

Voters re-elected Donald Breton, William Browne, Philip Landry and Peggy Shafer to the budget committee and chose Christopher French to succeed Richard Phippen.

Dianna Gram plaque

Former Vassalboro Community School Principal Dianna Gram, who retired at the end of the 2017-18 school year, was recognized for her 24 years of service. School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur and member Jolene Clark Gamage announced a tree has been planted in the school’s front yard with a plaque honoring the principal who, Gamage said, “always was a champion of the kids.”

Gram, completely surprised, said when she was bidden to attend the town meeting, she feared she had somehow messed up the budget. Her Vassalboro job wasn’t a job, she said – “It was coming here every day as part of the VCS family.”

When the town meeting continues June 11, voters will re-approve or reject the $7.7 million school budget approved June 3; decide whether to continue the second school budget vote (called the budget validation referendum) for another three years; and elect municipal officers. Selectman Robert Browne and school board members Jessica Clark and Levasseur are unopposed for re-election.

Taxes, assessments dominate selectmen’s meeting

by Mary Grow

Taxes were the last, but not the least, item discussed at the June 10 China selectmen’s meeting.

The bottom line: tax bills sent out late this summer will show increases in valuation and an increase in the rate, neither dramatically large. Tax Assessor William Van Tuinen is still working on local values and the legislature has not decided state funding to municipalities, so final figures are not available yet.

Van Tuinen explained that local valuations, made by paid assessors like him, need to be within 10 percent of state valuations made by state officials. If a town falls below an average of 90 percent, the state imposes penalties in the form of limits on homestead and veterans’ exemptions.

Both valuations are based on sales; the state uses two-year-old figures, Van Tuinen used last year’s. Both valuations exclude the extreme sales – the family who was lucky enough to get an astronomical sum for their property and the family who sold among themselves for a token amount.

China’s valuations are low enough to need adjusting, Van Tuinen said. He recommended reversing a 2012 reduction (in response to the economic crisis that started in 2008, about the time of China’s last full revaluation). Doing so would increase building values by 10 percent town-wide and rural land values by 15 percent, leaving shoreland land values as they are, he said.

An alternative would be to increase building values by five percent and rural land values by 7.5 percent, with a second increase in two or three years if the economy continues to expand. Either one, Van Tuinen said, would enable him to say China met state standards.

Neither proposed change would increase the total amount raised by taxation. Either change would redistribute it – to the detriment of local people compared to non-resident shorefront owners, resident Wayne Chadwick pointed out.

Town Manager Dennis Heath said the current mil rate is 15.8, or $15.80 in taxes for each $1,000 of valuation. Based on the incomplete information available as of June 10, he estimated Van Tuinen’s full adjustment would lower the rate slightly to 15.7 mils. Half the adjustment would raise the rate to about 16.4 mils. Leaving valuations as they are would mean a rate of around 17.1 mils.

After about 45 minutes’ discussion, selectmen voted unanimously to raise building valuations by 5 percent and rural land values by 7.5 percent, with the understanding that depending on the market, they might need another increase fairly soon.

In other actions June 10:

  • Returning to the equipment bids left unfinished at their May 28 meeting, selectmen unanimously voted to have Chadwick supply an excavator, dump truck and bulldozer as needed for road work over the summer. Public Works Manager Shawn Reed encouraged them to plan to buy an excavator; owning one would save money over rentals and give the town crew more flexibility in planning work, he said.
  • Selectmen unanimously awarded the 2019 paving bid to Hopkins Paving of Herman, for $268,608.
  • After a short discussion in executive session, they unanimously hired William Butler, of Jefferson, as codes enforcement officer and licensed plumbing inspector, intending him to work with and then succeed Paul Mitnik.
  • They unanimously appointed Ralph Howe as District Three representative on the planning board.

They tabled Heath’s request for approval to spend $13,338 for a lighted sign for notices at the transfer station, similar to the one at the town office. Selectman Irene Belanger recommended seeking the Transfer Station Committee’s opinion.

If selectmen stay on their regular schedule, their next meeting should be Monday evening, July 8.

China selectmen review bids for outdoor summer work

by Mary Grow

China selectmen spent most of their May 28 meeting reviewing bids for outdoor summer work, with mixed results. Their decisions annoyed a resident with a personal interest in the matter.

The bid requests were in three categories, each subdivided: materials, equipment to be rented (with an operator) and mowing.

Two contractors bid on materials, mostly different types of gravel. Public Works Foreman Shawn Reed recommended rejecting all bids and buying materials as needed. Contractor (and budget committee member) Wayne Chadwick agreed from the audience, saying he thought the bid prices were high. The four selectmen present (Board Chairman Robert MacFarland was absent; Ronald Breton was elected temporary chairman) accepted the advice.

Three contractors bid to provide equipment, with Hagar Enterprises offering to provide up to 16 items (backhoe, excavators, dump trucks, loaders, bulldozer) as needed and the other two bidding on three or four items. Selectmen and Reed agreed it would be easier for the public works crew to have a single contract.

However, selectmen realized that the bidders had not been asked to supply delivery charges for moving machines to China. Despite Chadwick and Reed warning that time is getting short to line up equipment and start work, they postponed a decision to their next meeting, scheduled for June 10.

Bidders for the summer mowing contract were asked to submit prices for ballfields, cemeteries and town properties (the town office lot, the adjoining lot where the red barn stands and the former Weeks Mills Schoolhouse lot). They were also asked for labor and equipment prices per hour for work done outside the contract, an addition that several selectmen found confusing.

Danforth Lawncare was the only company to bid on all three categories; William Danforth said he has done China’s mowing for many years. The job includes cleaning up the properties spring and fall and mowing and trimming in the summer, he said.

Ace Home and Camp Care bid only on town properties, and was the highest bidder. Rumpf’s Backyard Services was the low bidder on the ballfields and the town properties. On the ballfields, Danforth’s bid was $5,700, Rumpf’s $2,800; on town properties, Danforth’s bid was $4,175 and Rumpf’s $3,500.

Informed that Colby Rumpf is 16 years old and just starting his business, selectmen unanimously awarded the entire mowing contract to Danforth, based on his experience and history of reliability.

Later in the meeting, Tom Rumpf, Four Seasons Club president and Colby Rumpf’s father, talked about possible cooperation between the Four Seasons Club and the town to provide an access road to a public landing on the Hall property, if voters approve buying it on June 11 and if selectmen then develop it. (See The Town Line, May 2, and May 30.)

Before his presentation, Tom Rumpf rebuked selectmen for “somewhat wasting the town’s money” on the summer mowing. There were people in the audience who would have given references for his son, he said, if Breton had recognized them so they could speak. Breton later apologized.

Tom Rumpf said the Four Seasons Club board authorized negotiations with town officials to share the club’s driveway for a boat launch only, not a swimming beach. The Hall property has a rocky shore, he said; the club has the only sandy beach suitable for swimming.

Redesigning the road and agreeing on maintenance might be difficult, Rumpf said. “It needs to go slow right now.”

Selectman Jeffrey LaVerdiere has suggested the town buy and distribute to residents Four Seasons Club memberships, to gauge the level of interest in public lake access. Rumpf said the club would consider discounting prices for a reasonable number of memberships if selectmen adopt the idea.

In other business May 28:

  • Selectmen unanimously approved Town Manager Dennis Heath’s request to spend $5,025 to switch to LED lights at the transfer station, to be partly offset by a $1,400 state rebate. The change has already been made in the town office and the nearby former portable classroom, Heath said. He expects to save money on electricity, but could not estimate how much money.
  • On Heath’s recommendation, selectmen unanimously approved a settlement with Three-Level Solar Farm on Vassalboro Road (Route 32 North), resolving a dispute over depreciation and resultant future tax value that started in 2018.
  • Heath said China’s property valuation is far enough out of line with the state’s that the town should raise its valuation. He expects Assessor William Van Tuinen to explain the problem at the selectmen’s June 10 meeting. LaVerdiere objected strongly to anything that would raise taxes, saying they are already so high as to discourage local business, including his general store outside China Village.

The May 28 meeting was governed more strictly than in the past by Robert’s Rules of Order, which selectmen adopt annually. Heath purchased a podium (for $88 at Marden’s, he wrote in a May 23 email) and Breton expected everyone, including Heath and selectmen, to be recognized before speaking and audience members to come to the podium.

Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood had the honor of christening the podium. Asked about one of the expenditures selectmen approved early in the meeting, she left her seat in the back row, walked to the podium, said “Yes” loudly and distinctly as required, and returned to her seat.

An executive session to discuss personnel issues followed the open selectmen’s meeting. Afterward, Heath emailed that board members directed him to poll the public about closing the China Town Office on Saturdays. Currently it is open Saturdays from 8 to 11 a.m.

Results of dam removal

With the removal of the Lombard Dam, in Vassalboro, another section of the China Lake Outlet Stream is flowing freely. (photo by Matt Streeter)

 

photo by Matt Streeter

The caption for the above photo has been corrected. It was an editing error.

School board decides to reluctantly raise school lunch prices by 10 cents

Vassalboro Community School. (source: jmg.org)

by Mary Grow

At their May 21 meeting, Vassalboro School Board members reluctantly voted to raise the bill for a full-price school lunch from $2.75 this year to $2.85 for the 2019-2020 school year.

A food service memo requested the increase, explaining that it is required by the federal government, whose officials found almost a decade ago that schools were undercharging for paid meals.

Federal money reimburses Vassalboro $3.31 for each free lunch and 31 cents for each paid lunch. Vassalboro should charge the $3 difference, so that reimbursement for free meals no longer subsidizes paid meals. A federal calculator sets 10 cents a meal as the maximum annual increase until the $3.00 figure is reached. Failure to comply could lead to loss of federal funds.

On another topic, Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer said the board can choose to extend Title I services to all students, instead of only to those identified as needing extra academic support. The federal Title I program is intended to help disadvantaged students, those at risk of not doing well in school for any of a variety of social or individual reasons.

In the plan is approved, Curriculum Coordinator Mary Boyle said, Title I staff can work with students before they fall behind. She and Principal Megan Allen agreed staff would be working differently, not more, so there would be no cost increase.

Boyle is under contract with Vassalboro as a holdover from former AOS (Alternative Educational Structure) #92. School board members intend to review the three-year contract with the former AOS at a future meeting –probably not at the June 18 board meeting, Pfeiffer said, as shared personnel will be very busy with end-of-school work.

In other business May 21, board members accepted with regret resignations of Educational Technician Ellen Goodrich and bus driver Rosalie Woods and hired bus driver Clayton Rice.

They approved moving five first-year probationary teachers to second year; four second-year probationary teachers to third year; nine more from third-year probation to continuing contracts; and three from continuing to annual contracts.

They approved a 2019-2020 school calendar and a school board meeting schedule.

This year, school will end with a half day of classes on June 18, later than originally expected because of five snow days.

Before school is out, voters will have acted on the 2019-2020 budget twice, at the open town meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 3, at the school and again at the June 11 budget validation written-ballot vote.

The June 11 ballot includes local elections, with School Board members Jessica Clark and Kevin Levasseur unopposed for re-election. Voting will be at the town office, with polls open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.