China selectmen prepare warrant for budget committee review

by Mary Grow

China selectmen spent much of their Feb. 5 meeting putting the warrant for the March 24 town business meeting in absolutely final form, in preparation for review by the budget committee the evening of Feb. 6. The last few changes they approved included renumbering the articles, because one number was omitted as drafts changed; deleting an unnecessary reference in the funding article for the LakeSmart program; and increasing the amount they recommended for the China Village library from $100 to $4,500, matching the recommendation for the South China library.

The article that will be renumbered 34 asks voters to appropriate up to $20,000 for the LakeSmart program, which helps lakefront property owners on China Lake control run-off to protect water quality. As drafted, the article included a clause requiring Selectboard approval for spending any of the money “to advance an interest in real property.” LakeSmart spokeswoman Linda O’Connor said the program has no intention of acquiring any such interest; the clause was removed.

In what will be Art. 26, selectmen initially recommended voters give $4,500 to the South China Library and $100 to the Albert Church Brown Memorial Library in China Village, run by the China Library Association. Their rationale was that the China Village library had less need of money, because the association has an endowment fund that totaled more than $450,000 before the recent stock market declines.

Association President Tom Parent explained that a maximum of four percent, $20,000 to $22,000, is withdrawn annually so that the fund will keep the library running in perpetuity. The library’s annual operating budget is around $32,000, Parent said. The difference is made up by donations, numerous fund-raising projects and the town stipend.

Challenged by board Chairman Robert MacFarland for keeping the funds in the comparatively volatile stock market, Parent pointed out that the interest earned on a savings account or bond fund would not begin to cover annual expenses.

Selectmen voted unanimously to increase the recommended appropriation. They did not accept Parent’s second request, that they rewrite the article so that it would allow voters to choose the amount to give each library, below, at or above the recommended amounts.

The library funding article and a few others in the March 24 warrant are closed or capped: the recommended funding amount appears in the body of the article. Most of the rest of China’s expenditure articles begin with “To see what sum” and have amounts as recommendations by the selectmen and budget committee added below the articles; they are called open articles.

Town meeting rules say that when an article is closed, voters can approve the amount as stated or a smaller amount, but not a larger amount. When an article is open, voters can appropriate whatever they see fit.

Parent argued that open articles are more democratic. MacFarland said having all open articles makes it possible for special-interest groups to increase funding beyond selectmen’s intentions, unbalancing town finances.

China’s annual town business meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, March 24, at China Primary School.

In other business Feb. 5, selectmen voted unanimously to begin the process of seeking a successor to Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux, who plans to retire in June. They rejected O’Connor’s suggestion that they add four residents, one from each area of town, to a selection committee, saying that interviewing and hiring the town manager is the selectmen’s job.

They accepted Thomas Michaud’s resignation as at-large (elected from anywhere in town) planning board member and agreed to advertise the vacant seat.

The selectmen’s meeting was preceded by a bicentennial celebration in the former portable classroom, at which Bicentennial Coordinator Neil Farrington and about three dozen residents of all ages discussed China’s history, and a fireworks display that audience members agreed was one of the best in China in years. The occasion was the 200th anniversary, to the day, of the creation of the Town of China from parts of Harlem (the southern part of present-day China), Albion (then Fairfax) and Winslow.


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