Emergency services discussed by China residents; MacFarland elected board chairman

by Mary Grow

Discussion of emergency services stipends at the Nov. 13 China selectmen’s meeting led to discussion of related issues: recent legislation, a new local requirement and how to make sure residents are safe during power outages and other emergencies.

In March, town meeting voters appropriated up to $40,000 to compensate China fire and rescue volunteers for their time. Selectmen approved a plan developed by the three fire departments and China Rescue providing fixed stipends for officers and per-call stipends for other volunteers.

At the Nov. 13 meeting, Fred Glidden, treasurer of the South China volunteer fire department, presented a draft requisition form he proposed to request the stipends for the first half of the fiscal year. Weeks Mills department spokesman David Van Wickler said his department could use the same form; China Village was not represented. Selectmen unanimously approved submission of forms – China Village officers are not obliged to match South China’s – by Nov. 30 and June 30 of each year the stipend program continues.

South China Chief Richard Morse started discussion of LD 150, a new state law presented by state Representative and China Village Fire Chief Tim Theriault, that allows towns to give each department its voter-approved annual funding in a lump sum. Until now, fire and rescue bills have gone through the town books with the town paying bills for the departments from each department’s funds.

In March, voters appropriated $22,000 for China Village, $21,000 for South China, $17,370 for Weeks Mills and $20,950 for China Rescue, plus money for dispatching and emergency services insurance.

Selectman Jeffrey LaVerdiere said the departments would need “financial reporting” if they were to get lump-sum disbursements. Morse said LD 150 requires that the appropriations, not necessarily the expenditures, be itemized.

LaVerdiere then cited the local requirement approved by voters in November that “all nonprofit organizations” receiving town funds provide “their most current respective financial statements” in order to be considered for funding. China’s emergency services are nonprofit organizations.

Morse, Selectman Irene Belanger and resident Lynne O’Connor were dismayed to realize that the requirement applies to the emergency services – they had assumed it applied only to out-of-town nonprofits like the Red Cross.

Morse and Van Wickler feared they would be asked for additional and more detailed bookkeeping. China Rescue spokesman David Herard said there have been 289 rescue calls since the beginning of 2017 – he has enough to do keeping those records without adding financial reporting.

LaVerdiere said repeatedly he had in mind a simple single-page report that would let selectmen fulfill their responsibility to oversee expenditures of town funds. Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said whatever was done would have to satisfy the town’s auditors.

Selectmen postponed further discussion until they talk with Theriault about his intention when he proposed the state law and perhaps until they get legal advice.

While the firefighters were there, Selectman Neil Farrington asked if they could do wellness checks, making sure people living alone, the elderly and residents with medical needs are all right during major storms, power outages and the like.

Van Wickler and Morse said firefighters are not qualified, especially to interpret medical conditions. Van Wickler said while clearing roads after the windstorm he visited a couple people he knew were alone.

L’Heureux said the town’s health nurse can make wellness checks in some cases. Belanger added the China for a Lifetime Committee is working on the issue, tentatively considering a program of neighbors looking out for neighbors.

In other business Nov. 13, L’Heureux said the town’s plan to buy part of Susan Bailey’s property at the head of China Lake’s east basin to provide parking for the boat launch was stalled, because the lot cannot be separated from her larger property on the east side of Route 202. The Four Seasons Club is interested in part of the east-side land for trail parking, and it could also provide space for a new China Village fire station, he said.

L’Heureux said Bailey is willing to sell all the land for $120,000. Despite concerns about wetlands and other issues, selectmen unanimously authorized him to draft a proposal that could lead to a request to voters to approve the purchase.

Belanger said China needs a second representative and a substitute to serve on the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments board. L’Heureux said a second Kennebec Regional Development Authority representative was also needed; board members unanimously appointed former selectman Ronald Breton, conditional on his accepting.

L’Heureux said about 180 residents had returned the China for a Lifetime Committee’s surveys. A committee meeting tentatively scheduled for Nov. 16 might be postponed to give time to review survey results, he said.

Selectmen elected Robert MacFarland the new board chairman on a 3-2 vote, with LaVerdiere, MacFarland and Donna Mills-Stevens the majority and Belanger and Farrington opposed. Belanger was unanimously re-elected board secretary.

Selectmen scheduled their annual visioning session for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 27, before their next regular meeting.

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