Relations among town departments seem to be running smoothly

by Mary Grow

VASSALBORO — Relations among major Vassalboro town departments seem to be running smoothly, according to an Oct. 4 discussion of public safety and law enforcement issues and communication between town and school officials.

The exception, perhaps a minor one, is a potential change in the services that dispatch emergency personnel.

Currently, Vassalboro firefighters, rescue unit members and the town’s one policeman depend on the state’s Regional Communications Center in Augusta and the Kennebec Sheriff’s Office. Town Manager Mary Sabins said a recent letter suggested potential rearrangements that might take effect in July 2019.

Firefighter Michael Vashon said the Vassalboro volunteer fire department is unlikely to be affected, and is satisfied with the Regional Communications Center. Police Chief Mark Brown expects the Sheriff’s Office will continue to dispatch Vassalboro law enforcement, which is shared among him, sheriff’s deputies and state police.

First Responders Chief Dan Mayotte said his service is less satisfied with the Regional Communications Center than the firefighters are, and gave an example of an error that delayed an emergency response – not the first, he said.

Mayotte advised selectmen to look into alternatives for dispatching service, including Somerset and Waldo counties. Selectmen assigned the job to Sabins, with local emergency personnel to give her names of people with whom to talk.

New Vassalboro School Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer immediately accepted the selectmen’s suggestion that he provide them with monthly reports on school issues affecting the town, especially the budget, like numbers of students and the condition of the school building.

Pfeiffer commended custodial staff at Vassalboro Community School for conscientious maintenance that he said seems to have kept the building in good shape. Perhaps, suggested Selectmen Chairman Lauchlin Titus, there would be occasional projects on which the town crew could help.

Pfeiffer also commended Police Chief Brown for his frequent visits to the school, and Vashon praised his cooperation with the fire department. Selectmen and Brown agreed that given Brown’s limited time – he is paid for 15 hours a week – he should focus on community policing.

Vashon mentioned the lack of road access to the back of the school building for emergency vehicles, a situation Pfeiffer promised to look into.

Sabins reported on ongoing efforts to get a grant for a generator that would let the school building serve as an emergency shelter. Mayotte offered as matching funds the money voters approved for rescue unit grant matches, saying he had not yet made any applications this year, and Vashon and Pfeiffer suggested additional possible grant sources. In other business Oct. 4:

  • Selectmen voted unanimously to pay the Town of China $100 so Vassalboro residents can bring confidential papers to the shredder that will be at the China town garage on Alder Park Road from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 27.
  • They accepted the only bid on a tax-acquired lot on Harmony Lane, $10,010 from Gerard and Elaine Grenier.
  • After a brief public hearing, which drew no comments, on amendments to the appendices to the General Assistance Ordinance, they unanimously accepted the amendments.
  • The meeting began with selectmen and town office staff presenting Sabins with a congratulatory potted plant in recognition of her election as president of the Maine Municipal Association.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, Oct. 18.

Spectrum to raise residential video service rates

Charter Communications (locally known as Spectrum), continues to enhance their services, offer more of the best entertainment choices and deliver the best value. “We are committed to offering our customers with products and services we are sure they will enjoy, said Shelley Winchenbach, director of government affairs, in a letter to municipal officers. “Containing costs and efficiently managing our operations are critical to providing customers with the best value possible. Like every business, Charter faces rising costs that require occasional price adjustments. ”

As a result, customers will be notified of the following price adjustments through a bill message on or after October 1, 2018. Effective on or after November 1, 2018, pricing will be adjusted for residential video service:

  • Broadcast TV Surcharge from $8.85 to $9.95;
  • Spectrum Receiver from $6.99 to $7.50;
  • Digital Adapters from $4.99 to $5.99;
  • Latino View from $7.99 to $8.99.

“We remain committed to providing an excellent experience for our customers, in your community and in each of the communities we serve,” continued Winchenbach. If you have any questions about this change, you may contact Winchenbach at 207-620-3319 or via email at shelley.winchenbach@charter.com.

Budget committee accepts proposal to assume advisory role in investment decisions

China Baptist Church

by Mary Grow

The five (out of seven) China Budget Committee members at a special Sept. 26 meeting unanimously accepted Town Manager Dennis Heath’s proposal that the committee assume an advisory role in town investment decisions.

Part of the draft financial policy Heath has developed says that town funds will be invested as recommended by the budget committee and approved by the board of selectmen.

Budget committee members added, at Heath’s suggestion, a requirement that he make regular financial reports to them, to make their new responsibility easier. They agreed on quarterly reports, and further agreed emailed reports would not necessarily require a meeting to discuss them.

In the past, the committee’s only role has been to meet before any town vote involving appropriation of town funds and make recommendations on the proposed expenditures. Heath pointed out that under the Budget Committee Ordinance, the committee may also “make such other recommendations on fiscal matters as it may from time to time deem advisable.”

The new budget committee role is part of a more comprehensive fiscal rearrangement that Heath will present to selectmen at a future meeting.

Agreement approved with Hussey Communications to expand wireless internet

China Baptist Church

by Mary Grow

China selectmen settled two issues they and Town Manager Dennis Heath have been working on for weeks at their Oct. 1 meeting.

By unanimous votes, the four board members present:

  • Approved Heath’s policy on internal financial controls, which includes, among other things, the requirement that town checks have two signatures and an expanded advisory role for the budget committee (see related story here).
  • Approved an agreement with Hussey Communications of Winslow aimed at increasing availability of wireless internet service in China.

Board member Neil Farrington said two small wireless towers have already been added, one at the China Village fire station and one at Three Level Farm on Route 32 North, and the first few lakeside residents have signed up for service. He said as income increases, more towers will be provided; the eventual goal is to cover the whole town, in spite of the hills that block signals.

In other business, Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood said absentee ballots should be available by Oct. 3. Residents unable to come to the polls Nov. 6 can apply for absentee ballots or vote in person at the town office until Nov. 1, when the early-voting period ends except in emergency cases.

Selectmen agreed to advertise for an assistant codes officer, to work 18 hours a week with Paul Mitnik, with the possibility of taking over Mitnik’s position when he retires.

Selectman Irene Belanger reminded those present of the household hazardous waste disposal in Winslow Saturday morning, Oct. 20 – pre-registration at the China transfer station is required – and the shredding on site at the China public works building Saturday morning, Oct. 27. China residents may bring unneeded drugs to each event, she said.

Planners approve camp expansion on Webber Pond

by Mary Grow

For the second month in a row, Vassalboro Planning Board members commended the only applicants before them for a well-prepared application and approved it unanimously with only a brief discussion.

Susan B. and Al Traylor’s plan to enlarge their camp at 54 Birch Point Road, on Webber Pond, met Vassalboro’s shoreland requirements, board members agreed. The Traylors plan a bigger room and a new deck, with minimal earth-moving and no expansion toward the lake.

Normally, the next planning board meeting would be Nov. 6, the first Tuesday of the month. Because the Vassalboro town office meeting room will be used for voting that day and evening, board members rescheduled the meeting to Tuesday evening, Nov. 13.

Selectmen to open bids on tax-acquired lot; review emergency services, police

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen begin their Thursday, Oct. 4, meeting with a 6:30 p.m. public hearing on amendments to the appendices to the General Assistance Ordinance. In a typical year, amendments slightly increase general assistance allowances, in conformity with state-wide changes.

Other major business items on the Oct. 4 agenda include reviewing bids for a tax-acquired lot on Harmony Lane; considering options for emergency services dispatching; discussing local law enforcement and public safety; and considering ways for selectmen to become better informed about school activities, now that the school is part of town government rather than a member of a regional school organization.

The selectmen meet in the town office meeting room. All meetings are open to the public.

Vassalboro selectmen postpone business due to chairman’s absence

by Mary Grow

VASSALBORO – With Chairman Lauchlin Titus unable to attend their Sept. 20 meeting, selectmen postponed the main planned business, a discussion of issues related to police and dispatching services, to their Oct. 4 meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the town office. The two board members present approved the major business item on the Sept. 20 agenda, a boundary agreement with Comprehensive Land Technologies, Inc., which owns a gravel pit adjacent to Vassalboro’s in South China. (ep)

Ben Brann of CLT explained that the CLT pit requires a state license, because it covers more than five acres. To get the license, it must be at least 50 feet from an adjoining pit or have an agreement with the owner of the adjoining pit allowing for a lesser separation. When CLT bought the pit, he said, the separation was already less than 50 feet.

The Town of China has increased the assessed value of Vassalboro’s pit, thereby raising the taxes on it from less than $200 in 2016 to more than $1,500 in 2017 and 2018. China selectmen in their role as assessors unanimously rejected Vassalboro’s appeal of the valuation earlier this month. Vassalboro selectmen did not rule out further investigation, but decided taking the issue to court immediately would not be a wise use of town funds.

Town Manager Mary Sabins reported on steps taken toward applying for grant money for a large generator to make Vassalboro Community School a potential emergency shelter.

Five questions, candidates on China’s November ballot

by Mary Grow

China voters have on their Nov. 6 ballots five referendum questions and in annual local elections one contest and two vacancies.

The candidate list provided by Town Clerk Becky Hapgood shows four candidates for three positions on the Board of Selectmen. Incumbents Jeffrey LaVerdiere and Donna Mills-Stevens each seek another two-year term; Ronald Breton and Wayne Chadwick would also like to be selectmen. Incumbent Neil Farrington is not seeking re-election. Instead, he is running unopposed for China’s seat on the Regional School Unit #18 Board of Directors currently held by Charles Clark. Dawn Castner is the town’s other representative.

For the planning board, incumbents Thomas Miragliuolo (District 4) and Toni Wall (District 2) seek re-election without opposition. There is no candidate on the ballot for the at-large position, elected from anywhere in town, currently held by Breton. For the budget committee, incumbents Timothy Basham (District 4), Jean Conway (secretary) and Thomas Rumpf (District 2) are unopposed for re-election. There is no candidate for the at-large position currently held by Valerie Baker.

The local referendum questions ask if voters want to:

  • Repeal China’s quorum ordinance;
  • Ask the Maine legislature for an exemption from the requirement that all municipalities collect personal property taxes on business equipment;
  • Appropriate up to $5,000 from Tax Increment Finance (TIF) funds to explore building an emergency services building and perhaps a community center on the former Candlewood subdivision, almost 40 acres of town-owned land off the north end of Lakeview Drive;
  • Appropriate up to $26,000 from current-year sale of tax-acquired properties for additional salaries and benefits for transfer station staff; and
  • Authorize selectmen, on the recommendation of the TIF Committee, to spend up to $100,000 in TIF funds on projects not presented to voters at the annual town business meeting.

On Nov. 6, China polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the former portable classroom behind the town office on Lakeview Drive.

TIF members hear about alewife restoration project

China Baptist Church

by Mary Grow

China TIF (Tax Increment Finance) Committee members heard a presentation on the China Lake alewife restoration project, or ARI (Alewife Restoration Initiative), at their Sept. 24 meeting, preliminary to an application for financial assistance expected at their Oct. 22 meeting.

Landis Hudson, of Maine Rivers, Frank Richards, president of the Webber Pond Association, and Nate Gray, of the state Department of Marine Resources, credited alewives for better water quality in area lakes, including Three Mile and Webber ponds and China Lake. The small fish have been trucked into China Lake in recent years; ARI is clearing obstacles in Outlet Stream so they can swim into the lake from the Sebasticook River.

Hudson said of six dams in the stream, one (Masse in East Vassalboro) has been removed completely; Lombard Dam, close to the intersection of Lombard Dam Road and Route 32 between East and North Vassalboro, is almost demolished; Outlet Dam in East Vassalboro and Box Mills and Ladd dams in North Vassalboro will have fishways installed; and the fate of the Morneau dam, between the Masse and Lombard dams, remains to be decided.

Creating fishways will be more expensive, and probably less controversial, than removing dams, Hudson said. The project has received state and federal grant money and $20,000 from China TIF funds approved at the March 2017 town business meeting.

All three proponents talked of the economic advantages of cleaning up China Lake, like higher taxes on lakefront property and a better fishery, perhaps including restoration of the salmon and trout that flourished before an overload of phosphorus led to a lack of oxygen in colder bottom water.

TIF Committee Chairman Frank Soares told Hudson the ARI application will be the first to be received for this year’s TIF funds. He anticipates a request for money for trail development from the China Four Seasons Club (which, he said, he no longer heads; Tom Rumpf is the new president).

In other business Sept. 24, Soares, committee member Tom Michaud and Town Manager Dennis Heath reported on the causeway project at the head of China Lake’s east basin. Replacing the old bridge with a higher cement culvert will require closing Causeway Street, beginning Sept. 27; conspicuous signs announcing the pending closure are posted at both ends of the street.

Anyone wanting to visit the project must sign in at the town office and must wear a safety helmet and abide by all other safety rules, Heath and Soares said. To help residents follow the work without getting in the way, Heath intends to post photos on the China website.

After the bridge is replaced, Michaud said the second phase of the project requires an initial inspection and recommendations from the state Department of Environmental Protection. Committee members have discussed new structures at the head of the lake to make fishing easier, sidewalks and perhaps a four-wheeler trail connecting to the new bridge and other not-yet-fleshed-out ideas. Until state regulators tell the town what can and cannot be done, the committee cannot make firm plans.

Heath will try to get a DEP staffer to look at the area soon.

Decisions postponed due to lack of quorum at planners’ meeting

Causeway Road in China.

by Mary Grow

CHINA — With only three of the six China Planning Board members present at the Sept. 25 board meeting, decisions were postponed on both topics discussed.

Codes Officer Paul Mitnik recommends asking voters to approve amendments to the Land Use Ordinance, some merely clarifications, others more substantive. Board members will consider his suggested changes at future meetings and will decide whether to seek voters’ action at the March 2019 open business meeting or at the June 2019 written-ballot vote on the school budget and perhaps other town and/or state questions.

Board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo and members Jim Wilkens and Milton Dudley agreed that an April procedural decision lets Mitnik and Miragliuolo prepare and sign the final document listing reasons – findings of fact – for a board decision without further action by the whole board, an interpretation since disputed among board members.

The document containing findings of fact cannot be signed as soon as a decision is made because Mitnik needs time to write it. A related question, also left unanswered, is whether the 30-day period during which a decision may be appealed begins with the decision or with the signing of the final document.

The planning board’s next meeting is currently scheduled for Tuesday evening, Oct. 9.