China voters to decide RSU #18 bond issue

by Mary Grow

Regional School Unit (RSU) #18 officials are presenting voters in the five member towns – Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney – with a $13.9 million bond issue that they hope will be approved at the polls Nov. 7.

Voters in China also have local elections and three local referendum questions, including one asking approval to spend money.

At the first of a series of hearings on the bond issue, on Oct. 23 at China Primary School, RSU #18 Superintendent (and former China principal) Carl Gartley explained what the bond money would be used for. About $10 million will be spent to repair and update school buildings; $3.9 million will help build a new athletic complex at Messalonskee High School in Oakland.

A Facilities Committee composed of community members, RSU staff and the state Fire Marshal recommended funding priorities, Gartley said. The two China schools are slated to get almost $2.4 million worth of work, mostly at the older China Middle School.

Gartley said the committee’s tasks included catching up on work postponed after the 2008 financial downturn, emphasizing safety and looking toward future needs. Since 2010, he said, state funding has decreased and voters continue to resist local tax increases. As a result, in the last eight years China’s school budget has gone up by 6.61 percent, or an average of 0.83 percent per year, not enough to keep up with rising prices. Building maintenance has suffered, despite the RSU applying for and receiving loans from the state’s revolving loan fund.

Proposed improvements at China Middle School include a reorganization and expansion of the gymnasium, a new boiler, a new Americans with Disabilities Act compliant back entrance, paving and interior and exterior lighting upgrades.

China Primary School is slated to get roof repairs to stop leaks, a generator for the boiler room and paving and lighting. Modern lights should reduce costs, Gartley added.

Gartley calculated the cost of the bond in terms of additional taxes on a China house valued at $100,000: $49.10 a year, or $4.09 a month, averaged over the life of the bond.

The Messalonskee athletic complex is needed, Gartley said, because the current facility lacks handicapped access and other amenities. He emphasized that the complex would be for youth sports, gym and health classes and community use, not just for high-school sports teams.

China’s three local ballot questions ask voters if they approve:

  • Spending up to $8,500 from surplus to build a fire pond off Neck Road;
  • Requiring nonprofit organizations seeking town funds to provide a current financial statement in order to have their requests considered by selectmen and the budget committee; and
  • Authorizing selectmen to rent out space on the town’s communications tower behind the town office.

The proposed fire pond would be an enlargement of an existing pond just south of the intersection of Neck and Stanley Hill roads, with permission of the two landowners involved. The project would include an area for fire trucks to load water.

During selectmen’s discussions of the questions, Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said many of the nonprofit groups who seek town support already provide the information that would be required if voters approve the second question.

The town’s tower might be competing with privately-owned area towers. People said, however, that companies seeking to rent tower space look primarily for a location that meets their needs; so the town tower would be requested when no other was as suitable. Selectmen have not talked about criteria for choosing tower users or fees to charge.

Selectmen and the budget committee recommend voters approve all three questions. China polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 7 in the former portable classroom behind the town office.

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