Vassalboro’s Jobs for Maine Graduates (JMG Program) does it again!

At left, JMG students take part in an ice cream social. (Contributed photo)

The JMG Program in Vassalboro, under the direction of Victor Esposito, continues to support the Vassalboro community. On October 27, the group worked with and supported the Vassalboro Grange to put on a very special Harvest Supper. Proceeds from the event cover the insurance costs for the Grange building.

The students set the tables, decorated the space with floral arrangements made by Fieldstone Gardens, coordinated the cooking of the roast beef (with help from Meredith Cain and Mr. E), professionally serve the meal, and assisted with clean up!

Old items, new one, on selectmen’s agenda

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen are slated to continue discussion of four items and add a new one at their Thursday, Nov. 15, meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the town office meeting room.

The continuing items are options for emergency-services dispatching, as the state prepares changes that will be effective next summer; the possibility of the town acquiring or leasing the Riverside Fire Station, now owned by the volunteer fire department; the police chief’s job description; and information on the pros and cons of converting to LED streetlights.

Also on the Nov. 15 agenda is discussion of the cable franchise renewal process.

Interested residents are welcome at all Vassalboro selectmen’s meetings.

Rabies clinic benefits food pantry

Area dog and cat owners are invited to participate in Vassalboro Food Pantry’s annual rabies clinic from noon to 1 p.m. on Saturday, November 10, at the food pantry located at 679 Main St.

This annual event is one of the pantry’s important fundraisers, allowing the pantry to purchase critical food and hygiene items for community members in need. Rabies vaccine for dogs and cats will be administered by Windsor Veterinary Clinic for a $15 fee per animal. New this year, nail trims will be offered for $10 for qualifying animals. Animals that are aggressive or typically require sedation for nail trims will not be serviced. Animals must be leashed or in carriers. Dog licenses will also be available.

For more information, call 873-7375 and leave message, or email

Vassalboro revised lease sent to historical society

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen took care, at least temporarily, of one of the three repeat issues on their Nov. 1 agenda.

The two board members present voted to send a revised draft of the town’s lease agreement with the Vassalboro Historical Society for the former East Vassalboro schoolhouse to the Historical Society, with a request for approval or suggested changes by the end of the year.

The agreement deals with what costs the town pays and what the Historical Society pays and the way the annual town allotment to the society is handled. The revisions are intended to clarify respective responsibilities and make it easier for the Society to budget.

Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus and member John Melrose discussed updated information on converting to LED streetlights and concluded the situation is still evolving, so a decision should be postponed.

At Melrose’s suggestion they tabled without discussion a revised draft description of the town police officer’s duties, which Melrose said he could not accept and assumed Titus could, creating a tie vote.

Their other decisions were to close the town office Monday, Dec. 24, as well as Christmas Day, and to schedule selectmen’s meetings for Nov. 15, Dec. 6 and Dec. 20. The transfer station will be open as usual the weekend before Christmas.

The future of emergency services dispatching generated a long discussion with Police Chief Mark Brown, Vassalboro First Responders member Peter Allen and resident Frank Hatch, who works for the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.

Currently several dispatch centers serve the Central Maine area, using two different systems. The systems have two parts, a public safety answering point (PSAP) that receives emergency calls and the dispatch center or centers, like the state’s Regional Communications Center (RCC) in Augusta, the sheriff’s office and the Waterville Police Department, to which PSAP employees forward the calls. The dispatch center in turn calls the appropriate law enforcement or medical service.

Vassalboro firefighter Mike Vashon thinks Maine needs to get its act together. New Hampshire has one system for the entire state, plus a backup system, he said.

Changes are impending at the state level. Towns will have a chance, and some might need, to contract with a different service, in or outside Kennebec County. Several people at the Vassalboro meeting think any change is likely to increase costs.

The state’s deadline for changes is June 30, 2019. Vassalboro is all set through the current fiscal year, which ends that day.

Selectmen agreed to invite Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason and RCC Director Cliff Wells to their Nov. 15 meeting to continue the discussion.

Vassalboro town manager incoming MMA president

Mary Sabins, Vassalboro Town Manager

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Town Manager Mary Sabins is the incoming president of the Maine Municipal Association’s executive committee – or, in effect, head for a year of the state-wide organization that offers many services to Maine municipalities.

Sabins says most of her job is running board meetings. With a board she describes as “mutually respectful, civil, able to disagree without being disagreeable,” and an executive director, Steven Gove, with 30 years’ experience with the organization, she expects that part will not be difficult.

Board members are municipal officers, elected or appointed. Sabins’ predecessors were the mayor of South Portland and the Kennebunkport town manager.

The executive committee’s role is primarily setting policies and doing strategic planning for the organization. The president is in charge of overseeing the annual MMA convention in October and coordinating the state delegation’s approach to Maine Congress-people during the annual March meeting of the National League of Cities, held in Washington, D. C.

Sabins said almost all Maine towns and cities are MMA members, paying annual dues based on population and valuation. Among the organization’s major offerings to its members are free legal advice, multiple insurance plans that some municipalities find more advantageous than commercial offerings, technical services, assistance with personnel and labor issues, training for municipal staff and officials and a small grant program for workers’ safety equipment that Sabins said has benefited Vassalboro firefighters.

The organization’s mission “is to provide professional services to local governments throughout Maine and to advocate for their common interests at the state and national levels.” The MMA website,, lists services along with current news and other useful information.

Sabins has been active in MMA for five years. Before accepting her first position, she got Vassalboro selectmen’s approval and permission to take time off from her Vassalboro job as needed. At the next selectmen’s meeting after her election, selectmen and town office staff gave her a congratulatory potted plant that decorates her desk in the town office.

Sew for a Cause

The interior of the newly renovated community center. (Photo by Eric Austin)

St. Bridget Center, 864 Main St., North Vassalboro, will be hosting charity sewing on November 1, 15, 29 and December 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Volunteers can come for part of the day or the whole day. The group will focus on making lap quilts and pillow cases to give to area charities. You don’t need to know how to sew to participate. If you can cut, iron, sort and/or make phone calls, you are welcome to participate. Future projects will be pajama pants, fleece hats and mittens, quilted shawls and newborn items.

For more information email or check St. Bridget Center Facebook page. If you would like to donate cotton, fleece, flannel, velcro or thread, contact St. Bridget Center at 616-3148.

Law enforcement tops selectmen’s agenda

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen continued discussion of local law enforcement at their Oct. 18 meeting.

The topic was first raised several meetings earlier by board member John Melrose. Melrose thinks calling the town’s policeman, currently Mark Brown, the police chief is misleading, because he is in charge of no other officers and works part-time, in Brown’s case 15 hours a week.

“Police chief” is the title selectmen have used for Brown and at least one of his predecessors, Richard Phippen. The job description, last revised in 2016, is titled “Police Officer Job Description.”

Town Manager Mary Sabins and Melrose collaborated on a re-revised draft discussed Oct. 18 but not approved. Language has been amended to make it clear that the local policeman is not always on duty. Selectmen considered additional changes, with suggestions from Brown, firefighter and former Town Manager Michael Vashon and other audience members.

Melrose suggested the local police officer needs neither a police vehicle nor a weapon. His ideas were not supported.

There was consensus that Brown should be primarily what people called a community policeman or a resource officer, making himself visible at public events, Vassalboro Community School and elsewhere in town. More serious and/or time-consuming problems should be left or transferred to the state police or the Kennebec County sheriff’s office, whichever is covering Vassalboro that week.

State and county officers take two-week turns covering municipalities, Brown said. Melrose commented that communication among state, county and local officers sometimes seems inadequate.

The discussion touched briefly on the proposed reorganization of Augusta-based regional dispatching services, due to be completed in the summer of 2019, with so-far-unknown effects on local emergency services.

In other business at the lengthy Oct. 18 meeting:

  • After a very short public hearing that brought no comments, selectmen approved annual renewal permits for five automobile graveyards and three auto hobbyists.
  • Vashon, speaking for the volunteer fire department, got approval to use $25,000 from surplus to help reduce the price of a new fire truck, if the department gets a grant for most of the cost. Vashon said the department is looking at a $350,000 truck, hopes for gifts to help reduce the price and expects to hear next spring whether the grant application is approved.
  • Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus reported on a meeting he attended with representatives of other Central Maine towns to get updated information on energy-efficient street lights. “I left very encouraged,” he said, but he is not ready to recommend a commitment without still more information.
  • Selectmen approved revised rules for Vassalboro cemeteries, pending one clarification that Cemetery Committee Chairman Jane Aiudi thought would not be a problem. The next Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, Nov. 1.

School board members continue information sharing

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members continued information-sharing between town and school officials at their Oct. 16 meeting, inviting the board of selectmen – represented by John Melrose – to talk about mutually relevant issues.

Now that the school is part of the town instead of in a regional school unit, selectmen think more sharing of information, plans and resources will be useful. Melrose’s suggestions included:

  • Negotiating with Erskine Academy, the South China private high school attended by the majority of Vassalboro students, about ways to reduce town costs for tuition or transportation or both;
  • Cooperating on energy upgrades to save money;
  • Continuing efforts to have Vassalboro Community School (VCS) designated as an emergency shelter;
  • Reviewing services currently contracted with the former AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) 92 to consider what could be brought in-house when the three-year contract with the former AOS ends; and
  • Involving students and school personnel in the 250th anniversary of Vassalboro’s incorporation, which will be in 2021.

Another major discussion item was school board member Jolene Clark Gamage’s report on babies born addicted to drugs. The gist of her message was that resulting developmental delays or behavioral problems, or both, follow the child into school, creating an increasing need for special education services.

In 2016, the last year for which Gamage had what she thought were complete figures, Kennebec County reported 109 drug-affected babies. The figure was the third highest for Maine’s 16 counties (plus a very small number of non-resident babies), topped only by Penobscot and Androscoggin counties.

In the country, Gamage said, the most recent statistics show Maine has the fourth highest number of babies born addicted. In 2016 the state was in second place, according to materials she shared with other board members.

The cost of special education services varies with the severity of the student’s need.

Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur warned of another potential budget increase: special state funding for the pre-kindergarten program ends this year. If the program is to continue, the school will pick up the cost, with a major impact on the 2018-19 budget. In future years, the state will reimburse the town for pre-kindergarten students on the same per-pupil basis as for older VCS students.

Levasseur said Eric Haley, former AOS superintendent, has ideas for alternative funding that he plans to discuss with Vassalboro Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer and VCS Principal Megan Allen.

The next Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Nov. 20.

It’s time for pumpkin patches and corn mazes

Fred Nassar has been growing pumpkins for over 20 years on his Garland Road farm, in Winslow. He also has a 10-minute walk through the haunted woods to the pick your own patch. (Photo by Isabelle Markley)

by Isabelle Markley

Halloween is coming, and if you haven’t found the perfect pumpkin there is still time to stop at a roadside farm stand or pick your own site and cross the orange gourd from the shopping list. There are pumpkins small enough to be carried by a young child or so large that it may take more than one person to load it into the car. Some pumpkins are giants requiring a fork lift to move them. The giants are often seen at summer agricultural fairs where growers compete for blue ribbons and the title of largest official Maine pumpkin. Check the Maine Pumpkin Growers Organization’s website for the weight and the grower of each season’s top pumpkin. The site is also a resource for seeds and information on how to grow giant pumpkins. Currently the 2017 title is held by a 1,756 pound pumpkin grown by Elroy Morgan, from Charleston.

During the 2018 Windsor Fair’s giant pumpkin/squash weigh in, South China resident Carrie McGrath placed fifth in the adult pumpkin class with a white pumpkin weighing 57 pounds. It was grown from seeds given to her by friends. McGrath and her husband James, own the McGrath Farms on Lakeview drive, in China, where they grow strawberries and pumpkins. “I just threw the seeds at the edge of the garden. I didn’t do anything special except to cut off the smaller pumpkins leaving only the big one on the vine,” she said during a phone interview. Her 37-pound entry won first place in the Jack O’ Lantern division. Also winning ribbons in the adult division at this year’s Windsor Fair were pumpkins weighing 931 pounds grown by Richard Powell, of Nobleboro; 363 pounds grown by Quincy Perry, of Damariscotta; 130 pounds grown by Cody Wood, of Jefferson, and 63.5 pounds grown by Bette Barajas, of Windsor.

Getting the fall portrait at the photo spot at Lemieux Orchard, on Priest Hill Road, in Vassalboro. Left to right, Lucas Farrington, Andrew Perry, Dylan Saucier, Bella Farrington, Lexis Perry and Brandon Gregoire. (Photo by Isabelle Markley)

For a pick-your-own adventure go to the Haunted Pumpkin Trail on the Garland Road, in Winslow. Drive past the Albion Road cut off and continue until you come to a lawn filled with pumpkins of all sizes. The trail begins behind a tent-covered pumpkin display, leads downhill through trees decorated with ghosts and witches and ends in an open field. Pick your pumpkin; stop at the hay bale “take your photo here” spot; carry the pumpkin back through the woods to the tent at the trail’s start and find the price by placing your pick against a row of white paper plates showing sizes and prices. “The trail is free and open during daylight hours,” said farm owner Fred Nassar, the trail’s designer. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years. It’s a place where families can come for an adventure close to home.”

Test your sense of direction by walking through the corn maze ($3 per person or $10 per family) at the Lemieux Apple Farm, on the Priest Hill Road, in Vassalboro. The level dirt path between rows of towering corn stalks leads in circles with several escape exits along the way. Stop for a photo in front of the gigantic hay bale bear and then take a tractor pulled wagon ride into the orchards to pick your own apples. End the adventure with pumpkin and apple doughnuts from the farm stand inside the barn.

Sample fresh pressed cider and apple cider doughnut holes in the barn at the Apple Farm, on Back Road, in Fairfield. Then visit the processing room behind the barn to watch some of Maine’s oldest apple varieties – McIntosh, Northern Spy, Golden Russet, Pearmain, Winter Banana – being blended and bottled for a cider taste that is distinctive to this farm. On the weekends take a horse drawn wagon ride, through the orchards. Borrow an apple picker (a metal basket on a long pole) from the barn and head into the orchard to pick your own apples. Or try your aim at the “apple sling shot” to see if you can hit the pumpkin target at the end of the shooting range.

And if you just want to buy a pumpkin, check out the side of the road stands on Route 32, in Vassalboro; Ben and Molly’s Spooky Pumpkin Patch, on the Hansen Road, in South China; Bailey’s Orchard (pumpkins and over 50 varieties of apples in the barn), on the Hunt’s Meadow Road, in Whitefield; or County Fair Farms (wagon rides through the apple orchards on the weekends), on Route 32, in Jefferson. There is still time to find the perfect pumpkin for decorating the front steps, carving into Jack O’ Lanterns or baking into a homemade pumpkin pie.

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.