Three selectmen attend workshop with town manager

by Mary Grow

China Town Manager Dennis Heath and the three selectmen who attended the Aug. 24 workshop meeting came up with five local referendum questions the board might put to voters on Nov. 6.

No decisions were made at the meeting, except that Heath is to draft possible ballot questions. Selectmen will decide whether to ask them at their next regular meeting, scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4 (because the usual Monday evening meeting would have fallen on Labor Day).

The potential questions are:

  • Whether voters approve in principle building a new emergency services building;
  • Whether voters approve in principle building – or buying, Selectman Irene Belanger suggested – a new community building;
  • Whether voters want to repeal China’s quorum ordinance, which requires a minimum number of registered voters in order to conduct a town meeting;
  • Whether voters will authorize selectmen to spend part of the annual Tax Increment Finance (TIF) income each year without specific town meeting authorization, on recommendation from the TIF Committee; and
  • Whether voters support sending a resolution to the state legislature requesting exemption from the requirement to collect personal property taxes (taxes charged on business equipment, from computers used in a home office to farm and construction equipment).

Heath proposed the first two questions, about the new buildings. He emphasized that they do not include a specific location, design, cost or other details for either building. If voters approve either or both in principle, then selectmen or an appropriate town committee can develop details; if voters reject either or both ideas, planning would be a waste of time.

Belanger reminded those present that the quorum ordinance was approved in response to complaints that before its adoption, the few people who came to town meetings made decisions for the whole town. The suggestion to ask voters to repeal the ordinance came from town office staff, Heath said, because of the effort required to collect a quorum (currently 120 voters) so the March business meeting can be held.

If China residents do not want to attend town meetings, Heath said, perhaps it is time to ask another advisory question: would they prefer a town council form of government? Selectman Neil Farrington thought selectboard members should give the idea more consideration before perhaps presenting it to voters.

Under China’s current regulations for TIF spending, voters at the March business meeting authorize using the funds, collected as property taxes on Central Maine Power Company’s transmission line and South China substation, for purposes related to economic development. If during the following 12 months someone presents another project, it cannot be funded until voters approve it at the next town meeting.

Again, selectmen see the question as asking for a yes or no reaction. If voters approve, board members will work out details, like whether they can allocate a certain dollar figure or a certain percentage of the TIF fund, and seek more specific authorization in March 2019.

Farrington asked whether the town can grant exemptions from personal property taxes, about which he says he receives complaints. Heath and board Chairman Robert MacFarland said state law requires towns to collect them, although they agreed some towns do not and are not penalized – except, MacFarland said, real estate taxes are slightly higher to make up for the uncollected personal property taxes.

Heath said if China collected all personal property taxes owed, it would take in about $316,000 a year. He pointed out that if people with taxable equipment fill out the proper reporting form, they are entitled to exemptions on most newer items, and the state reimburses the town for half the exempted revenue.

Selectmen need to decide which questions will be submitted and how they will be worded at the Sept. 4 meeting, because the deadline for the ballot, including referendum questions and candidates’ names for local office, is Friday, Sept. 7.

In other business at the workshop, Farrington asked about ongoing plans to add three-phase power or otherwise update the transfer station’s antiquated electrical service. Heath said the Transfer Station Committee considered options at its Aug. 21 meeting.

One possibility is using part of the transfer station reserve fund to bring in three-phase power. Heath said a Central Maine Power Company site advisor estimated running a three-phase line from Route 3 could cost up to $60,000. Converting equipment, hooking up the new compactor and similar services could cost at least $20,000, maybe twice that. At the March 2018 business meeting voters authorized up to $200,000 for the reserve fund.

Heath does not expect to have a recommendation ready for the Sept. 4 selectmen’s meeting.

The manager shared personnel and staffing issues he had discussed with town staff. He is considering seeking two new employees, one to be assistant to Codes Officer Paul Mitnik and take over when Mitnik is ready to retire and one for the road crew to work as a mechanic, maintenance person and driver.

MacFarland, referring to the Aug. 20 meeting he missed at which the rest of the board approved Mitnik’s revised permit fee schedule, said his intention was to end up with lower fees, not higher. Mitnik proposed and selectmen approved lower fees for a few permits, but higher fees for many, to allow for inflation since the schedule was last reviewed.


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