Selectmen discuss sidewalks, sewer fees, solid waste and dam management

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen’s March 7 topics included sidewalks, sewer fees, solid waste hauling and dam management.

The sidewalk discussion related to state plans to rebuild Route 32, tentatively in 2021 or 2022. The question was whether sidewalks in the built-up sections of North and East Vassalboro would increase safety and convenience compared to the five-foot paved shoulders in the state plan.

Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus said the current sidewalks in North Vassalboro are not well maintained in winter and are so bumpy year-round that people often walk in the roadway. The state project would include new sidewalks, but maintenance would be a town responsibility, meaning costs for plowing, salting and sanding and repair as needed.

East Vassalboro resident Holly Weidner thinks drivers would not respect the wide shoulders as pedestrian territory, but would take them as an excuse to drive faster. Titus and Weidner agreed traffic-calming measures in both villages should be part of the rebuilding project.

Board member John Melrose, a former Commissioner of Transportation, expects the state transportation department to hold a public meeting to collect residents’ views when the project is closer to reality.

A resident raised the question of sewer fees, which are scheduled to almost double April 1 to help Vassalboro Sanitary District trustees fund the proposed connection to the Winslow and Waterville sewer system. Another resident said 192 households are on Vassalboro’s system, which serves East and North Vassalboro; many are already delinquent on current sewer fees.

The first speaker asked whether tax money could be used to help residents pay sewer bills. Titus said residents who want a question about spending tax money on the town meeting warrant need to draft it and get 211 voters to sign a petition supporting it in order to compel selectmen to add it.

The town has donated TIF (Tax Increment Financing) funds to the sewer project and is likely to continue to do so, he said.

Board members reviewed five bids for hauling solid waste and unanimously accepted Bolster’s Rubbish Removal of Burnham as hauler for solid waste and recyclable cardboard. The bid forms invited bidders to propose alternative methods to the containers the town now uses; Town Manager Mary Sabins said no one did.

The dam issue involves the contract under which the Kennebec Water District (KWD) manages the Outlet Dam in East Vassalboro to keep the China Lake water level within state guidelines. Sabins said the contract expired Jan. 31. The draft renewal submitted by KWD increases the fee charged to Vassalboro and reassigns some responsibilities from KWD to the town.

Sabins said KWD General Manager Roger Crouse had invited her to discuss the contract. Selectmen encouraged her to accept the invitation.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, March 21, with a budget committee meeting scheduled to follow at 7 p.m.

VCS JMG members pages for a day 2019

Members of the Vassalboro Community School Jobs for Maine Graduates served as pages for the day on February 19, in the Maine State Legislature. They later visited with Gov. Janet Mills, center. (Photo courtesy Victor Esposito)

Declining enrollment could limit gains in state school subsidy

Vassalboro Community School. (source: jmg.org)

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members continued work on their 2019-2020 budget request at a special March 4 meeting, despite still lacking major figures.

Board members do not yet know what the state subsidy for schools will be this year, as state legislators consider which of several options they can afford. Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer said since the subsidy is based on the number of students, Vassalboro’s continued slow decline in school population will limit gains if legislators approve a higher subsidy.

Also uncertain is the amount needed for high-school tuition. Pfeiffer expects the amount will be around $3 million, a substantial part of the total budget. Last year Vassalboro’s school budget was about $7.7 million.

Smaller unknowns as of March 4 were insurance costs and prices for heating oil and bus fuel.

Pfeiffer pointed out that if the legislature increases the minimum wage, school spending is likely to be affected. Other legislature proposals could also change state or local school spending.

A pending local change is that the grant funding the pre-kindergarten program at Vassalboro Community School ends this year. School officials intend to continue the program, using money left over from the current year and anticipated state reimbursement.

Lacking major numbers, board members and school officials discussed smaller items, like Principal Megan Allen’s offer of about $8,300 reductions in new teaching-related expenditures.

Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur estimated that only about 30 percent of the school budget is subject to the board’s and voters’ discretion; the rest is fixed by contracts or necessity. He anticipates an increase in the total budget, no matter how closely board members study it.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, March 19. A joint meeting of the School Board and Budget Committee is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday evening, March 26, at the school.

Vassalboro selectmen ready to forward budget to committee

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen wrestled with the 2019-2020 municipal budget for three hours at their Feb. 21 meeting. They concluded they were ready to forward it to the budget committee, whose members will review the selectmen’s figures before a final budget goes to voters at the annual town meeting in June.

The first budget committee meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 5. On Thursday, March 7, the selectmen meet at 6 p.m. and the budget committee at 7 p.m., the latter to begin discussions with town department heads. Interested residents are welcome at all three meetings.

Representatives of the town Public Works Department and the volunteer fire department attended the Feb. 21 selectmen’s meeting to talk about their budget requests.

Among the many public works topics covered were paving plans for this summer; repairs to a large culvert on Cross Hill Road, currently on hold while the state Department of Environmental Protection reviews the situation; planned vehicle repairs and replacements; adding a half-time employee, who might also work half-time at the transfer station; and how to make Foreman Eugene Field’s computer talk to his copier.

At a future meeting, selectmen intend to discuss sidewalks, in relation to the state’s planned rebuilding of Route 32 (Main Street in East and North Vassalboro). Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus said the most recent proposed date for the project is 2021 or 2022.

Board members want to consider the need for sidewalks in both villages, including the possibility of asking that the existing North Vassalboro sidewalks be eliminated. Titus, who lives in North Vassalboro, said they are not used much.

Selectmen made one unanimous decision on public works, authorizing Field to buy a new power washer from Motor Supply out of the current year’s budget without going through a bid process. Field presented five price quotes and expressed his preference for Motor Supply.

Another budget topic was salary increases for town employees, which have fallen below comparable averages in the Maine Municipal Association’s salary survey. Titus remembered that a few years ago, selectmen chose a three-year plan to bring salaries up; by the end of the three years, enough other towns had increased theirs to leave Vassalboro again toward the low end of the scale. A decision was postponed for discussion with the budget committee.

Solid waste management, another major budget item, was not ready for discussion, because bids for hauling trash are not due until Feb. 28. This year’s bid documents invite bidders to propose alternative hauling methods to the 50-yard containers the town now uses, making costs potentially more variable than usual. Town Manager Mary Sabins said two bids had already been received.

Police Chief Mark Brown hopes for a new vehicle, as the current one needs frequent repairs, Sabins said. Selectmen tentatively planned to buy a new vehicle, financing it over three years, and to reduce Brown’s recommended repair budget for next year.

Board member John Melrose proposed a brand-new expenditure: $1,000 to refurbish the memorial in East Vassalboro as “a centerpiece” for observances celebrating the town’s 250th anniversary in 2021.

Board begins preliminary school budget review

Vassalboro Community School. (source: jmg.org)

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members began review of the preliminary 2019-2020 school budget at their Feb. 12 meeting, despite missing several major pieces.

Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer, Principal Megan Allen and personnel from what used to be the Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) #92 office presented four budget categories: athletics, special services, district technology and health services.

At this early stage, the athletics budget is almost $39,000, up $3,600 from the current year; the special services budget is $1.4 million, about $39,000 lower than the current year’s; the technology budget is less than $61,000, down almost $13,000; and the health services budget is over $71,000, an increase of a little more than $1,400.

These very preliminary figures total less than $1.7 million. The current year’s total budget as approved at the June 2018 town meeting is more than $7.5 million. Major expenditures not discussed at the Feb. 12 meeting include the total instruction budget, which is tentatively over $2.8 million (including athletics), and tuition.

Pfeiffer said he has the state-set tuition rates for the secondary schools Vassalboro students attend, but does not yet have figures on how many students plan to attend each school next year.

The superintendent expects the special services budget to increase slightly. “Federal mandates, federal laws, the state – that’s a huge piece” of expenditures, and failure to comply invites lawsuits, Pfeiffer said.

Emphasizing that the Feb. 12 figures are preliminary and changeable, Pfeiffer asked school board members to study and think about them. The board scheduled a budget workshop for 6 p.m. Monday, March 4, before the next regular meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 19.

In other business Feb. 12, board members unanimously approved a policy on service animals at Vassalboro Community School. They accepted Pfeiffer’s offer to create procedures to go with a proposed policy on use of video cameras on school property.

Fun on Ice

Opening day at the Old Mill skating rink. (Photo courtesy of Victor Esposito)

Vassalboro resident Ray Breton has opened an ice skating rink right next to the Old Mill and gift shop, on Main St., in Vassalboro. The facility is available to both children and adults. This was the opening day.

Photo courtesy of Victor Esposito

Selectmen choose to ditch single-sort recycling; instead, put all in trash compactor

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen spent much of their Jan. 24 meeting talking about trash disposal, making decisions that will impact residents and local trash haulers.

They began the evening with plans to sign a single-sort recycling contract and put out a request for bids for hauling recyclables and mixed waste, separately. By the end of the discussion they agreed to abandon single-sort recycling and put everything into the trash compacter; and Town Manager Mary Sabins needed to amend the bid request.

Residents and trash haulers who have been separating recyclables do not need to continue.

The main reason for the change: board member John Melrose argued that when the new Coastal Resources (formerly Fiberight) plant in Hampden opens, its fancy machinery will recycle more items more efficiently than the town can.

Specifically, he said, paper and cardboard will be pulled out of the waste stream and pulped; organic materials will go into an anaerobic digester; and plastics will be sold or turned into fuel.

A 1995 amendment to Vassalboro’s Solid Waste Ordinance requires recycling cardboard and yard wastes, Sabins said. Selectmen debated, without deciding, whether recycling at Coastal Resources was adequate or whether they should ask voters to repeal the amendment.

Sabins’ draft request for transportation bids asked for three-year contracts to haul solid waste and recyclables to the Norridgewock landfill until the Hampden facility opens, and then to Hampden.

By the end of the discussion, selectmen directed Sabins not to contract for recyclables and to remove the recyclables section from the bid requests.

They also decided to ask for a one-year contract because of another change they are considering: transporting waste in open-top tractor-trailers instead of the large metal boxes now used. They plan to seek more information on the possibility.

Melrose also has a proposal to redesign the transfer station to simplify the traffic pattern and to deal with the aged compactor and backhoe that are mainstays of solid waste disposal. The board postponed action on his suggestion that they hire a traffic engineer to review the current situation.

Melrose described his goals as to “use the existing site, minimize expense and make it better but not perfect.”

In other business, board Chairman Lauchlin Titus reported he had inspected some of Vassalboro’s streetlight locations and has asked Vassalboro Community School Principal Megan Allen to ask bus drivers if they think there are places where a new light would increase safety.

Titus recommends multiple new lights, mostly at intersections. He is, however, aware that neighbors might not be pleased, especially if lights shine into bedroom windows.

The survey is a preliminary step toward converting streetlights to LED (light-emitting diodes), a move selectmen expect would reduce electricity costs significantly. Titus and Melrose voted to renew the liquor license for Natanis Golf Course, with fellow board member and course owner Robert Browne abstaining.

Action was postponed on bids for a new town office photocopier while Sabins gets more information; on beginning the process of renewing the town’s cable TV franchise agreement, for the same reason (Sabins still awaits an answer to questions she emailed in November 2018); and on consideration of a proposed town Food Sovereignty Ordinance to be presented at the June town meeting, because the proponent could not attend the selectmen’s meeting.

The next Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, Feb. 7, followed by a preliminary workshop on the 2019-2020 budget scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12.

Nine area students on University of New Hampshire’s dean’s list

The following students have been named to the dean’s list at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham, New Hampshire, for the fall 2018 semester.

Matthew Murray, of Augusta, with highest honors; Nicholas Carey, of Waterville, with high honors; Cody Short, of Fairfield, with high honors; Bradford Wilbur, of Fairfield, with honors; Carly LaRochelle, of Fairfield, with honors; Elijah Caret, of Oakland, with highest honors; Jessica Hosea, of Oakland, with highest honors; Hannah Duperry, of Oakland, with highest honors; and Adam Bovie, of Vassalboro, with highest honors.

2019 Real estate tax schedule

2019 Real estate tax schedule

CHINA

Second half taxes due
Friday, March 29, 2019

VASSALBORO

Third quarter payment due
Monday, February 25, 2019

WINDSOR

Second half payment due
Sunday, March 31, 2019

WINSLOW

Third quarter payment due
Friday, March 8, 2019

Coulombe named to dean’s list at Becker College

Brandon Coulombe, of Vassalboro, has been named to the dean’s list at Becker College, in Worcester, Massachusetts, for the fall semester. Coulombe is pursuing a bacherlor of arts degree in interactive media design, development and programming.