Bar Harbor Bank to acquire 8 bank branches in central Maine

Bar Harbor Bankshares (NYSE American: BHB) announced that its banking subsidiary, Bar Harbor Bank & Trust (“BHBT”), has signed a definitive agreement to acquire eight branches located in central Maine with approximately $287 million of deposits, $111 million of loans and $284 million of assets under management (as of March 31, 2019) from People’s United Bank, National Association (“People’s”.

Both banks will be working closely to ensure a seamless transition for customer accounts and associates transferring to BHBT. The Company intends to offer continued employment to the professionals associated with People’s central Maine region, which is anticipated to close in the fourth quarter of 2019. This acquisition is subject to regulatory approval from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the State of Maine and the satisfaction of customary closing conditions. The eight branches will increase BHBT’s total branch count to 56 in its footprint, and 22 in the State of Maine. The Company is well positioned to integrate the new branches into its existing operations and deliver the product depth and local responsiveness that it has become known for.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Curtis C. Simard stated, “We are pleased to welcome our new colleagues, customers and communities to our already deep Maine roots. We look forward to servicing their banking and Wealth Management needs, and to providing our full suite of personal and commercial deposit and loan products. We believe this acquisition provides our existing and new customers enhanced convenience and underscores our commitment to Maine while expanding into contiguous markets in a sensible way. These branches stretch across the central Maine I-95 corridor with four branches in the greater Bangor market and includes all deposits from People’s central Maine territory.”

Mr. Simard stated “This transaction contributes to our financial and long term strategic goals with manageable risk based on our experienced team’s history of successful acquisitions and system integrations. We plan to use the acquired deposits to replace certain existing higher cost of borrowings which will result in an immediate accretion to earnings and will support future growth with additional core funding. Incremental earnings will allow for an estimated earn-back of tangible book value per share less than a period of five years. At closing the Company will pay a 6.3% premium on average total deposits plus a premium of 1.2 times annualized wealth management revenue and approximately $4.4 million for the fair value of premises and equipment acquired.”

Griffin Financial Group, LLC served as financial advisor to Bar Harbor Bankshares and K&L Gates served as outside legal counsel. A presentation with additional information regarding the branch acquisition is attached as an exhibit and can be found on their website.

Misha Littlefield earns Eagle Scout status

Newly initiated Eagle Scout Misha Littlefield. (Photo by Ron Emery)

Photos and text by Ron Emery, Assistant Scoutmaster

On Saturday, June 29, Troop #479 honored an Eagle Scout at a Court of Honor held for China resident Misha Littlefield, at the China Baptist Church. Family, friends and Scouts attended the ceremony marking the advancement of this young man to the highest rank in Boy Scouts.

Misha joins a group of Eagle Scouts who have completed community service projects with the help of fellow Scouts and other volunteers. Each Eagle candidate must plan and supervise an Eagle service project to demonstrate his capacity and willingness to exert his leadership ability in activities that are constructive and worthwhile in his community.

Misha’s project benefited the community by building shelves at the China Food Pantry for the monthly delivery of USDA Federal goods. They did not have room to store the monthly delivery in a convenient location to stock food boxes. This Eagle Service project led by Misha Littlefield was greatly needed, according to Ann Austin, at the China Food Pantry.

Misha recognized all those who helped him to reach the Eagle Rank. Misha is the son of Rodney and Julie, of China, and is working at Lowe’s, in Augusta, and running his own business while working toward becoming an EMT.

Erskine Academy third trimester honor roll 2019

(photo credit: Erskine Academy)

Grade 12

High Honors: Molly Babson, Gavin Blanchard, Madison Boynton, Jenna Butler, Joseph Clark, Dominic Durant, Cameron Falla, Phillip Gilbert, Sage Hapgood-Belanger, Samantha Heath, Eleanor Hodgkin, Kayla Hodgkins, Amber Rose Holmes, Andrew Jackson, Antonio Jacobs, Christopher Jamison, Kyli Julia, Robert King, Morgaine Kmen, Olivia Kunesh, Caitlin Labbe, Noah Labbe, Milo Lani-Caputo, Rivers Malcolm, Tara Maltese, Desiree Mayo, Myles Nored, Jacob Praul, Seth Reed, Austin Roderick, Christina Roy, Hunter Rushing, Seth Savage, Jessie Sepulvado, Conor Skehan, Katherine Smith, Braden Soule, Elizabeth Sugg, Willow Throckmorton-Hansford, Jack Tobey, Kassidy Wade, Hagen Wallace, Jacob Wright, Alana York and Peilin Yu.

Honors: Samantha Allen, Dominque Andrews, Brenna Audet, Alex Barney, Nina Boudreau, Daniel Bourgoin III, William Bourque, Justin Browne, Arthur Carey, Nicholas Cates, Jonathan Condon, Caitlyn Denico, Damien Doe, Keara Doughty, Travis Dow, Tiffany Doyle, Samuel Falla, Courtney Gallagher, Madeline Geidel, Ashley Gillis, Chad Grant, Dylan Grotton, Lucas Grotton, Regina Harmon, Alexis Haskell, Tristan Hawk, William Jones, Jack Jowett, Garrett Keezer, Dylan Keller, Paige Leary, Conner Leeman, Searra Lord, Alexander Mahon, Mya Maxim, Isaiah Morrison, Conner Paine, Joshua Peaslee, Zachary Plourde, Hannah Reid, Cole Roberts, Caleb Sacks, Shaine Staples, Briana Strout, Mercedes Tibbetts, Megan To, Shay Tripp-Laliberty, Ashlyn Wing and Jiwei Jeff Ye.

Grade 11

High Honors: Jay Austin II, Julia Basham, Haley Breton, Abigail Cordts, Cheyann Field, Jada Fredette, Alyssha Gil, Annika Gil, Joshua Gower, Alyssa Hale, Emma Harvey, Keimi Henry, Summer Hotham, Ashley Huntley, Sarah Jarosz, Parker King, Benjamin Lavoie, Eleena Lee, Stephanie Libby, Jordan Linscott, Brandon Loveland, Marissa McGraw, Jakob Mills, Adalaide Morris, Lyndsie Pelotte, Hunter Praul, Miina Raag-Schmidt, Benjamin Reed, Mitchel Reynolds, Andrew Robinson, Alyssa Savage, Taylor Shute, Dominic Smith, Alisha Stevens, Jacob Sutter, Hailee Turner, Cameron Tyler and Richard Winn.

Honors: Alec Baker, Derek Beaulieu, Adam Bonenfant, Ashlee Bossie, Yanic Boulet, Kole-Tai Carlezon, Jacob Cater, David Chubbuck Jr, Summer Curran, Colby Cyr, Devin Davis, Dominic Denico, Joshua Donahue II, Joshua Duggan, Dominick Dyer, Vincent Emery, Mitchell Gamage, Boe Glidden, Bryce Goff, Tori Grasse, Gage Henderson, Nicholas Howard, Julianna Hubbard, Emily Jacques, Cameron Johnson, Colby Johnson, Luke Jordan, Tristan Klemanski, Brandon LaChance, Benjamin Lagasse, Cole Leclerc, William Leeman, Desiree Leighton, Sydney Lord, Haymanot Maynard, Reece McGlew, Kaytie Millay, Grady Miller, Krysta Morris, Nathaniel Mosher, Chandler Peele, Matthew Picher, Dalton Pushard, Jennifer Reny, Dominic Rodrigue, Michael Rogers, Shawn Seigars, Serena Sepulvado, Santasia Sevigny, Nicholas Shelton, Alissa Sleeper, Kayla Sleeper, Lily Solorzano, MaKenzi Strout, Nicole Taylor, Courtney Tibbetts, Brandon Tibbs and Katelyn Tibbs.

Grade 10

High Honors: Philip Allen, Abbygail Blair, Jane Blanchard, Samantha Box, Trevor Brockway, Eleanor Brown, Zoe Butler, Joleigh Crockett, Cody Devaney, Jacob Devaney, Abigail Dumas, Amelia Evans, Addison Gamage, Margaret Gamage, Patrick Hanley, Avery Henningsen, Nathan Howell, Emma Hutchinson, Muzzammil Iqbal, Delaney Ireland, Bryan Joslyn Jr, Madyx Kennedy, Sierra LaCroix, Isabela Libby, Colby Lloyd, Emily Lowther, Chiara Mahoney, Michael Nicholas III, Ian Oliphant, Brian Ouellette, Aiden Pettengill, Sydni Plummer, Harry Rabideau, Kristin Ray, Hanna Spitzer and Kelby Young.

Honors: Mara Adams, Nicholas Barber, Kylie Bechard, Rylee Bellemare, Isabella Bishop, Everett Blair, Johnathan Blair, Christopher Bourdon, Anthony Chessa, Saydi Cote, Katelynn Dubriel, Jake Emond, Phillips Gidney, Hailey Haskell, Braydon Hinds, Paeshance-Rae Horan, Keith Knowles, Kaylah Kronillis, Haley Laird, Joanna Linscott, Eva Malcolm, Jonathan Martinez, Hailey Mayo, Gavin Mills, Tyler Ormonde, Olive Padgett, Daniel Page, Courtney Paine, Isabella Parlin, Annaliese Patterson, Allison Roddy, Hailey Sanborn, Acadia Senkbeil, Paul Slimm, Carly Spencer, Joshua Tobey, Mollie Wilson, Dylan Wing and Samuel York.

Grade 9

High Honors: Isaac Baker, Julia Barber, Alana Beggs, Jacob Bentley, Jack Blais, Wyatt Brann, Lilian Bray, Evan Butler, Emily Clark, Tabitha Craig, Liberty Crockett, Colby Cunningham, Isabella DeRose, Luke Desmond, Emma Fortin, Samantha Golden, Trace Harris, Hayden Hoague, Grace Hodgkin, Rachel Huntoon, Emma Jefferson, Grace Kelso, Taidhgin Kimball, Aidan Larrabee, Lili Lefebvre, Isavel Lux Soc, David Martinez – Gosselin, Hayden McMurtry, Adam Ochs, Abigail Peaslee, Devon Polley, Sarah Praul, Riley Reitchel, Mackenzie Roderick, Abbey Searles, Shawn Searles, Hannah Soule, Natalie Spearin and Lily Vinci.

Honors: Griffin Anderson, Nickolas Berto, Austin Campbellton, Nathaniel Collins, Jasmine Crommett, Daniel Cseak, Caleb Cyr, Tiana Dingwell, Kaden Doughty, Alexander Drolet, Abigail Dutton, Kelsie Fielder, Jacob Fisher, Chase Folsom, Wyatt French, Jenna Gallant, Josette Gilman, Ciera Hamar, Thomas Hanley, Larissa Haskell, Skye Havey, Hannah Huff, Hunter Johnson, Tanner Klasson, Mallory Landry, Madison Lully, Calvin Mason, Robert McCafferty, Wes McGlew, Ben Monroe, Christian Moon, Rebecca Morton, Brady O’Connor, Lilly Potter, Paige Reed, Parker Reynolds, Kadince Rideout, Natasha Ryder-Lewis, Andrew Shaw, Hugo Smith, Nathaniel Solorzano, Hannah Strout – Gordon, Brennen Wade, Samuel Worthley, Emily York and Hannah York.

CHINA: Medical marijuana plan presented to planners; can’t rule yet

by Mary Grow

Clifford Glinko gave his well-prepared presentation on his proposed medical marijuana facility on Route 3, in South China, at a July 9 public hearing – to no audience, and without enough detail to satisfy the China Planning Board, which can’t rule yet anyway.

Glinko has applied for a marijuana growing facility with a retail storefront for marijuana patients in the Route 3 building that has housed Mabel Charles’ used book store and Maine-ly Trains, among other past businesses. He was initially scheduled to present the application at a June 11 meeting, but was not notified. In his absence, board members scheduled the public hearing.

Three neighbors of the project attended the June 11 meeting. Glinko said he talked with them before his July 9 presentation.

Another development between the two meetings was Planning Board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo familiarizing himself with the new state law’s “opt in” provision. According to information from the Maine Municipal Association, municipalities must vote to allow medical marijuana operations before any can be approved. Those in operation before December 13, 2018, are grandfathered, so Nathan White’s business farther west on Route 3 is not affected.

Glinko brought to the July 9 hearing a slide presentation in which he explained why a medical marijuana facility would be a good neighbor – odor controls, normal business hours, not much traffic, extensive security – and described his family and his interests. His wife Tracey is a dentist who heads Kennebec Valley Dental Arts, in Fairfield.

Glinko said he does not use marijuana himself, but became interested in medical marijuana after hearing some of the dental patients, including one who was on chemotherapy, describe it as “better than opiates.”

Miragliuolo asked for more specific details about proposed business operations. Glinko referred the question to his consultant, Jared Jandreau, who prepared the application with guidance from former codes officer Paul Mitnik.

After a discussion of the many definitions in state law, whether the facility would be closer to Grace Academy than the law distancing marijuana operations from schools allows, different odor control methods and related topics, board members remained in need of more information.

Glinko and Miragliuolo agreed an “opt-in” town vote is a preliminary necessity. If China voters allow medical marijuana businesses, Glinko can present a more detailed application, Miragliuolo said. New Codes Officer William Butler offered suggestions for revisions.

The July 9 meeting was the first in China for Butler, a former Maine Department of Environmental Protection staffer and codes officer elsewhere in Maine. Butler said he applied for the job after Mitnik, a former DEP colleague, told him he did not want the full-time position China officials decided they need.

“Paul was incredibly efficient,” Butler commented, keeping up on things during his two days a week.

The next China Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, July 23.

China CEO Mitnik moves on with regret and pleasure

Former China Codes Enforcement Officer Paul Mitnik. (Contributed photo)

by Mary Grow

“I’m saying goodbye to China,” Paul Mitnik said toward the end of our June 25 conversation in his office in the town office. After four years as codes enforcement officer, licensed plumbing inspector and building inspector, Mitnik is moving on, sooner than he intended, with a mixture of regret and pleasure.

Regret because he has enjoyed working in China. Most people are “friendly and want to do the right thing,” and “I like the [Town Office] staff a lot – they work as a team and get along really well,” he said.

Pleasure because “I’m kind of excited about entering another chapter of my life.” Mitnik has three jobs already: as the two-day-a-week codes officer and plumbing inspector in Wayne, where he’s worked since May; as Palermo’s very part-time plumbing inspector; and as an on-call construction inspector with Augusta-based Kleinfelder engineers.

He said Wayne is another nice town with a pleasant town office staff. As in his previous jobs, he’s in a town with lakes – nine, he said – and therefore handles shoreland zoning issues with which he’s very familiar. Mitnik expressed appreciation to former China Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux and the selectboard who hired him four years ago as a part-time codes officer. He’s worked Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and occasionally, especially when he first came and had to learn about China, Wednesdays.

This spring, he said, the current town manager and selectboard decided the codes officer’s position should be full-time. Mitnik was not interested; this is a man who’s already retired twice, from the state Department of Environmental Protection and from the town of Manchester, and wants to keep on working without committing to 40 hours a week.

He therefore resigned, earlier than he had planned. He considers the town action “kind of like a breach of contract,” since he was hired for a part-time job, but instead of arguing found the Wayne position.

In Mitnik’s opinion, “You don’t need a full-time codes officer here [in China],” as his four years as a part-timer have demonstrated.

Mitnik’s full-time replacement was hired late in June, after two false starts. The first advertisements brought no qualified applicants (because, Mitnik believes, the salary offered was too low) and the first person hired left after two weeks. Now selectmen have hired William “Bill” Butler, another ex-DEP employee whom Mitnik commends as knowledgeable and experienced.

When he worked as a Department of Environmental Protection environmental engineer, Mitnik had “a technical job with tight deadlines.” Being a codes officer is harder, he said, because “You have to know so much more.”

A good codes officer, he said, has to be a psychologist and a policeman, able to be patient with the people who need and appreciate assistance and with critics.

One piece of his job that Mitnik has enjoyed in China but will give up in Wayne is applying MUBEC, the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code. Under current law, MUBEC applies in municipalities with at least 4,000 residents; Wayne is too small. MUBEC requires inspections at different stages as a new building goes up. Some towns use third-party inspectors; Mitnik thinks having a town employee qualified as a building inspector is more effective and less expensive.

Builders receive a list of required inspections and are supposed to notify the inspector as they’re ready for each one. Where an out-of-town inspector might not follow up, Mitnik used a spread-sheet to keep track and remind builders.

The code authorizes inspectors to fine builders who neglect notification requirements and to make them tear down recent construction to reveal earlier work. Mitnik said he’d be unlikely to have something torn down, except maybe a deck built without a permit and illegally close to a water body.

Mitnik offered China officials and residents two pieces of advice on his way out: protect your water quality, and try to change China’s image as business-unfriendly.

Good water quality is vital all over Maine to keep up the tourism that supports the state’s economy. Mitnik recommends strict enforcement of shoreland ordinances, especially limits on development within 100 feet of a water body. He called China’s Phosphorus Control Ordinance “a great thing,” but pointed out that it is “badly outdated” and recommended an update, especially to add alternative techniques to control run-off instead of relying so heavily on buffer systems.

Mitnik said during his first year the planning board reviewed 18 business-related applications. Now it’s three or four a year. Yet, Mitnik said, in a state that’s considered too far from the rest of the country and too cold to attract big industries, small businesses are vital.

Townspeople “really should consider zoning,” he said, realizing his view is unpopular. If one deterrent to business is the NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome, zoning helps: it designates areas where commercial development is welcome and protects residential neighborhoods where business is not wanted.

With a zoning ordinance, “people are in a way losing rights,” but the town is “encouraging and controlling growth,” in Mitnik’s view. Wayne has had zoning since 1972, he added.

Area students named to highly selective dean’s list at Colby College

Area students were recently named to the highly selective dean’s list at Colby College, in Waterville, for outstanding academic achievement during the spring semester of the 2018-19 academic year. A total of 443 Colby students – or 23 percent of the qualified student body – earned a spot on the Dean’s List last semester.

Kathryn K. Bernier, a member of the class of 2020, attended Waterville Senior High School and is the daughter of Daniel and Jennifer Bernier, of Watervillee.

Eleanor Rose M. Theriault, a member of the class of 2021, attended Erskine Academy, in South China, and is the daughter of David and Linda Theriault, of Vassalboro.

Students had to earn a semester grade point average of 3.78 or higher this spring to be included on Colby’s Dean’s List.

Vassalboro selectmen wrap up financial matters as new fiscal year begins

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen spent most of their June 27 meeting, the last in the 2018-19 fiscal year, wrapping up financial matters and starting FY 2019-2020.

For the new year, selectmen approved a long list of committee and other appointments. Most appointments were re-appointments; the main exception was the Recreation Committee, which has six new members out of eight.

Town Manager Mary Sabins explained retiring Recreation Director Dan Ouellette recommended making the people in charge of each sport, known as “commissioners,” committee members, instead of having two different groups. Danielle Sullivan is the new director, and the 2019-2020 committee members are Stephen Polley, secretary; Jacob Marden, treasurer; Marc Cote, in charge of fundraising; Sarah Lavallee, in charge of the snack shack; Jamie Willette, soccer commissioner; Mary Presti, softball; Kyle Allen, baseball; and Scott Fitts, basketball.

At the June town meeting voters appropriated $15,730 for the recreation department.

The list of appointments includes a revived Trail Committee, composed of caretakers for various town recreational and conservation lands. Members are Selectman John Melrose, whose idea it was, and Maverick Lowery, Richard Behr, Phil Allen, Holly Weidner and Kevin Wood.

Paul Begin is the new assistant director of Vassalboro First Responders. Sabins said he succeeds Peter Allen, who moved out of town.

As required by town ordinance, selectmen met with budget committee members who need to approve all year-end transfers of funds from one department to another. This past year, Sabins said, the streetlight account was over-expended by $335.07 (in June 2018 town meeting voters appropriated $18,250; in June 2019, $18,500).

The manager recommended covering the deficit with unspent money from the 2018-19 solid waste account. Selectmen and budget committee members unanimously approved.

Budget committee member Peggy Schaffer suggested at the next town meeting, voters be asked to authorize selectmen to transfer up to a certain amount – $500 or maybe $1,500 – without budget committee approval.

In other business, Rick Denico, Jr., sought permission to dispose of a mobile home on his family property. The mobile home is empty and Denico said appears to be uninhabitable; if it is deemed abandoned, he would like approval to demolish it. Sabins said owner Roger Frost has overdue property taxes, and the town has no desire to acquire the mobile home for unpaid taxes.

Since the abandonment question might be resolved before their next meeting July 18, selectmen agreed to abate 2017 taxes and charges if Denico acquired and got rid of the building. The assessor has authority to abate 2018 taxes, Sabins said.

After South China resident Bob Bennett’s critical letter (see The Town Line, June 20), Selectmen have had inquiries and comments about the outhouse at the East Vassalboro boat landing. Sabins said the building is on Kennebec Water District land, but maintenance is Vassalboro’s responsibility.

The manager said the facility is a holding tank that does not leach into China Lake. Central Maine Disposal Company pumps it annually. After visiting it, she called CMD and was told pumping should be done early in July.

The boat landing has a carry-in carry-out policy, so there are no trash cans and people leave trash in the outhouse. Sabins intends to look into having the building cleaned and perhaps repainted.

She said a review of town records and conversations with past town managers and Water District officials gave no information on why the town has maintenance responsibility.

Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus said he had been asked to install a bench at the Webber Pond boat landing. He plans to donate one that needs some of its wooden slats replaced, and Sabins plans to see what the public works crew can do to restore it.

Bridge loan money available to China businesses; applications available at town office

China residents or non-resident property or business owners needing a bridge loan to help start or expand a business in China may apply to borrow between $5,000 and $25,000 from the TIF revolving loan fund. After months of discussing a revolving loan fund, TIF Committee members agreed on July 1 to “put it live.” Information and application forms will soon be available on the Town of China website.

Guardrail topic generates heated discussion; Cotta resigns from TIF committee

by Mary Grow

Money was the top issue at the China Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee’s July 1 meeting, but guardrails generated the most heated discussion.

The metal guardrails run along the shore at the head of China Lake, on both sides of the new causeway bridge and for a considerable distance east. Several TIF Committee members emphatically do not like them. They’re ugly and unsafe, committee members said.

Included in the plan for Phase I of the causeway project, they were installed by Wright-Pierce Engineering, Town Manager Dennis Heath said.

As Tom Michaud, who chairs the TIF Committee’s construction subcommittee, remembers, in November 2018 the committee asked Wright-Pierce to postpone the guardrails to Phase II. Selectmen decided they were necessary for safety and authorized going ahead with the installation.

Jim Wilkens said they are too hard to get over to be safe. He recently watched parents trying to help children climb over them to get out of the roadway.

Michaud said the guardrails need to be gone before the China Days children’s fishing derby the first weekend in August so derby entrants can fish along the shore. So far he’s been unable to get the project engineer, Mark McCluskey of A. E. Hodsdon, to respond to his complaints.

Heath said he would talk with McCluskey, and committee members considered a recommendation to selectmen. They scheduled a second meeting focused on construction issues on July 2.

Assuming Phase II includes changes to the guardrails, Heath said preliminary suggestions include shortening the existing ones or replacing them “with a more decorative pedestrian type instead of a vehicle type.”

[See also: Selectmen unanimously approve fire departments stipend plan; to submit to state for review]

Phase I is almost complete, Heath said; the two remaining items are resurfacing the sidewalk, which was damaged when rain fell before the concrete dried, and completing records. The TIF fund has about $139,000 earmarked for Phase II, plus money set aside for engineering. Heath is waiting for cost estimates from McCluskey.

The manager is the TIF Committee’s financial officer. In that capacity, he told committee members the TIF fund has an unaudited balance of close to $435,000, and he expects about another $360,000 in 2019-2020 from Central Maine Power Company tax payments on its power line and South China substation.

Heath told committee members they can recommend rearranging China’s TIF program to cover new economic development activities to meet changing times. Committee members voted to review the program every two years, and more often if needed. The TIF Committee makes program and funding recommendations to the selectboard; specific projects need town voters’ approval. So far projects have appeared on the warrant for the annual town meeting. In November 2018 voters turned down a request to let selectmen approve TIF fund requests between town meetings.

The next TIF Committee meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, July 29.

After the July 1 meeting adjourned, H. David Cotta announced his resignation from the committee, effective immediately.

Selectmen unanimously approve fire departments stipend plan; to submit to state for review

by Mary Grow

China selectmen hope they settled three issues, at least temporarily, at their July 8 meeting, while kicking a fourth question down the road for the third time.

The dispute with the town’s three volunteer fire departments over payment of stipends has been going on since the fall of 2018. After a discussion in executive session, Town Manager Dennis Heath summarized a path forward that board members unanimously approved.

The question of removing sections of the guardrails at the head of China Lake before they get in the way during the annual China Days fishing derby was a new item that Heath thinks can be taken care of in time. The executive session was followed by a second decision, on town office hours.

And selectmen for the third time declined to commit to buying a grader for the town’s public works department, planning to revisit the question with additional information at their July 22 meeting.

The issue with the volunteer firefighters is how to give them token compensation for their efforts without making them town employees under state or federal law. Voters approved money for stipends at the April 6 town business meeting.

The decision approved unanimously at the July 8 meeting was that the stipend-payment formula developed by the firefighters will be sent to the state labor board for review. If the labor board approves it, departments and town representatives will incorporate it in a new memorandum of understanding on disbursement policy, after which payments will begin.

The guardrails were installed as part of Phase I of the causeway project, running across the new bridge that was the focus of that phase and eastward along the shore. The Tax Increment Financing Committee discussed the guardrails the previous week, found them ugly and unsafe (although they are intended as a safety measure) and recommended selectmen see to changing them. Heath agreed July 8, describing them as “overkill” and “designed for an interstate.” The manager expects project contractor Comprehensive Land Technologies can remove the sections that block access to fishing areas before China Days, scheduled for Aug. 2 through 4. Heath had no cost estimate during the selectboard meeting, but emailed shortly afterward that CLT planned to charge $4,000 a day. The manager thought the work might take only one day.

If Phase I funds cannot cover the partial removal, the TIF Committee is ready to begin Phase II and can use that money, Heath said. Later in Phase II, he said, more attractive guardrails might replace the present ones.

[See also: Guardrail topic generates heated discussion; Cotta resigns from TIF committee]

The third decision, again after a discussion in closed session, was to change China town office hours effective Nov. 1. As of that date, the town office will no longer be open for three hours Saturday mornings; instead, on Tuesdays and Thursdays it will remain open an hour and a half later than it does now, until 5:30 p.m. In the only split decision of the evening, selectmen authorized the change on a 3-2 vote, with Chairman Robert MacFarland, Irene Belanger and Ronald Breton in favor and Jeffrey LaVerdiere and Donna Mills-Stevens opposed.

Yet another action after the executive session was board members’ report that they had conducted Heath’s annual review and found his job performance satisfactory (or, as Belanger put it, “He’s a keeper.”)

Selectmen have debated whether to buy an excavator since Public Works Manager Shawn Reed recommended that they do so, and at a subsequent meeting recommended a specific machine. In the interim, selectmen signed a contract with local contractor Wayne Chadwick to use his excavator this fiscal year.

Selectboard members argued again about Reed’s claim that buying would save money compared to contracting or renting. They discussed when Chadwick planned to work, and how long the price quote Reed had would be held. Deciding they needed more information on the last issue, they postponed a decision.

In other business at an unusually varied meeting:

  • Town Clerk Becky Hapgood announced that nomination papers for local elective offices will be available July 11; signed papers are due at the town office by closing time Sept. 6 for names to appear on the Nov. 5 ballot. People whose terms end this year are Selectmen Belanger and MacFarland; Planning Board members Kevin Michaud (District One) and Ralph Howe (District Three, appointed in June to fill out an unexpired term); and Budget Committee members Robert Batteese (chairman), Kevin Maroon (District One) and Wayne Chadwick (District Three). In addition, the planning board alternate at-large seat, currently vacant, is due to be filled this year.
  • Board members unanimously renewed Craig and Richard Taylor’s license for Wildwood pawn shop outside China Village.
  • Hapgood said town office staff started the new fiscal year with a new budget format and new accounts to which they are still getting accustomed. Heath also introduced a new payroll processing system; asked if it is working well, Hapgood said it “still has kinks.” Policeman Tracy Frost agreed: he and his colleagues could not get it to accept their payrolls for the previous two weeks, he said.
  • The usually-routine job of approving items presented for payment took almost half an hour, mainly because Breton questioned Courtesy Boat Inspectors’ supervisor Mallory Chamberlain’s mileage claims and, briefly, why she put in for a salary in addition. China Region Lakes Alliance President Scott Pierz explained why Chamberlain drives several hundred miles a week on the job, and Hapgood pointed out that the packet of supporting documents included Chamberlain’s mileage report in standard town format.