Vassalboro News: Taxes raised by .88 mils; might be less with state funding

by Mary Grow

Hours of negotiation between budget committee and school board members and the board of selectmen paid off at the first session of Vassalboro’s town meeting June 5, as voters approved all recommended appropriations.

One resident asked how come the recommendations of the town boards were all in agreement. Budget Committee Chairman John Melrose first joked that it was because the budget committee was able to persuade selectmen the budget committee was right. More seriously, he said officials worked toward consensus, believing it to be in the town’s interest.

Lauchlin Titus, chair of the selectmen, called 2017 “one of the toughest budget sessions I think I’ve ever been involved in.”

Currently, voters have raised their tax rate by 0.88 mils (88 cents for each $1,000 of valuation). However, town officials and state Representative Richard Bradstreet expect the final increase to be less, because they expect more state funding for schools than in the budget the legislature is now reviewing.

To cover the expected change, a new 2017-18 school budget article says that if state school funding is higher than expected, the additional money will be used to lower taxes, up to the $338,681 coming from the town in the budget approved at the meeting. When Larisa Batchelder asked about postponing a vote on the school budget until the legislature and governor approve state funding, Selectman Philip Haines said a later town vote would require a special town meeting, with a quorum requirement that might be hard to meet in the summer. Town officials expect a final figure in July. In 2016, selectmen set the tax rate at their Aug. 8 meeting.

Town meeting continues on Tuesday, June 13, with local elections and a written-ballot vote to approve or reject the school budget. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the town office.

Voters at the June 5 open meeting agreed to group multiple articles together, including the municipal government appropriation and the school appropriation, sparing the need for Moderator Richard Thompson to read each item separately. With only a few questions and comments from the 120 or more voters assembled, the meeting lasted less than two hours.

In addition to authorizing 2017-18 spending, voters approved an amended Shoreland Zoning Ordinance and a revised Sanitary District Charter; allowed selectmen to apply for state aid to rebuild the East Vassalboro boat launch; approved exercising the “put option” with the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC); and elected five budget committee members.

The PERC article was followed by an explanation that a voter suggested was not entirely clear. Town Manager Mary Sabins explained in a sentence: when Vassalboro agreed to send its trash to PERC years ago, the town bought part ownership in the company, and now PERC is buying back Vassalboro’s shares for an expected $13,514.13. Donald Breton, William Browne, Peggy Schaffer and Eddie Scholz were re-elected to the budget committee for two years, and Phil Landry defeated Holly Weidner by four votes for the seat vacated by Lori Fowle. The complete town meeting warrant is in the 2016 town report, which is dedicated to the late Jim Mitchell. Mitchell also received a posthumous Spirit of America award, accepted by his widow, Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell, and other family members.

China schools hold Forest Day celebration

 by Mandi Favreau

Last Friday morning’s torrential downpour didn’t dampen spirits at the China Schools as they hosted their 9th Forest Day Celebration. “Who can find a white ash?” Cindy Lyford called out as students enthusiastically pawed through leaves set out on the tables, trying to find the right match to add to their leaf rubbings. Down the hall, an Inland Hospital volunteer led kindergarten students through some basic yoga, while students in the cafeteria listened to a Maine forester’s presentation while eagerly awaiting the arrival of Smokey the Bear.

The China Schools Forest Day Celebration started in 2000 and has typically run every other year, with one three-year gap. “In all the years we’ve done this, this is the first time we’ve had to start the day inside,” said semi-retired China Primary teacher Elaine Philbrook who heads up the event with former China Schools teacher and Maine Master Naturalist Anita Smith. “It still provides a good change of pace and gets the students up and moving around.”

The event is typically set up at stations scattered through the China Schools’ Forest and community field and is designed to help students develop an appreciation for nature. This year’s presenters spread out across classrooms and hallways with activities focused on either the natural world or physical activity.  Nearly every station had a hands-on component that allowed students to interact with the material in a different way. CPS Pre-K through fourth graders rotated through stations on topics like recycling and composting principals, tree, plant, and animal identification, and monarch migration.

The China Middle School presentations were geared toward more advanced skills and concepts such as map and compass, forestry management, soil testing, and nature writing. Students got to meet a ball python, learned how to budget natural resources for survival, and one intrepid group even ventured out into the wet forest to learn the very important skill of identifying poison ivy.

Even with nearly all the activities based inside, the focus was still very much on the natural world and all that nature provides us. “It’s so important to foster a connection with nature,” said Anita Smith. This is perhaps even more crucial for middle school students who tend to spend more time inside and on devices. “The mapping presentation even uses tablets to show them that nature and technology aren’t mutually exclusive,” Ms.Smith added.

While many of the 35 volunteer presenters were Maine naturalists,  forestry professionals or presenters from  Project Learning Tree and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, many were also parents, grandparents or community members with a passion for nature and a desire to share their knowledge with the school community.  “Everyone is eager to get involved,” said Ms. Philbrook.  Local businesses also contribute; this year MJEK Seafood donated food to the luncheon.

“As soon as we wrap up one event, we start thinking ahead and planning the next one,”  Ms. Philbrook said. “Many of our presenters never miss a year, but we’re always looking for new presentations and people who want to be a part of this day.”

For more information on the China Schools’ Forest and pictures of Forest Day please go to https://www.facebook.com/chinaschoolsforest/.