CHINA NEWS: Two local questions on China ballot in June

by Mary Grow

China voters will have at least two local ballot questions on June 13.

The exact wording remains to be decided, but at the April 17 selectmen’s meeting board members voted to present two questions, asking voters if they want to:

  • Prohibit growing marijuana for retail sale, selling marijuana for non-medical purposes or running a marijuana social club – the three main items state voters, but not a majority of China voters, approved in November 2016 – within town boundaries;
  • Appropriate money from the Undesignated Fund Balance (surplus) to install a septic system and a well to serve the portable classroom behind the town office, with the well to supply the office also. Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux will suggest an amount, after some research, and will call a meeting of the Budget Committee to get its recommendation on the proposed expenditure.

Selectmen scheduled a short special meeting for 8 a.m. Thursday, April 27, to review and approve final wording of the ballot questions.

The decision to put the first question to voters was made on a 3-2 vote, with Joann Austin and Jeffrey LaVerdiere opposed. Austin sees a local marijuana industry as economic development and a source of new tax revenue. LaVerdiere, while opposing large out-of-state operations, said, “We’re an agricultural town. I don’t see why we should outlaw growing anything.”

Austin also argued that before asking China voters to act, selectmen should see what regulations the state develops. Board member Irene Belanger said other town managers have expressed similar opinions. But, Belanger said before she voted to put the question on the ballot, “We’re a family-oriented community” and should not send a message that drug use is okay.

Ronald Breton proposed both questions and voted in favor of putting both to voters. Board Chairman Neil Farrington considered it appropriate to “give voters an opportunity to decide whether they want marijuana in their neighborhood.”

Board members were unanimous in presenting the proposed appropriation. Adding running water is a step toward readying the building for potential use as an emergency shelter. It is already used for voting and occasional meetings.

The other major topic at the April 17 meeting was a presentation by retired teachers Anita Smith and Elaine Philbrook on the China School Forest. Using about 50 acres of the 75-acre property the town bought in 1984 for the new primary school, ball fields and other education-related purposes, forest supporters are celebrating the 20th year after its 1997 designation as a Maine Outstanding Tree Farm.

The forest belongs to the town, not the school department, and is open to residents of all ages for walking, bird-watching and similar activities. It also serves as a classroom and a source of natural resources, Philbrook and Smith said.

Forest Field Day will be held Friday, May 26, rain or shine, with a variety of activities for China elementary students and the public. On Saturday, Oct. 14, Maine Project Learning Tree, the state division of the international environmental educational organization, will hold its 40th anniversary celebration in China’s forest.

Selectmen commended Philbrook and Smith for their many hours of volunteer work in and for the school forest.

In other business April 17, Four Seasons Club President Frank Soares described the club’s changed plan to use its $50,000 appropriation from China’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) program. Some of the proposed trail work was done at no charge by Coutts Brothers, Inc., so the club plans to improve additional trail mileage and to divert $5,000 to replace the dock at its swimming beach, Soares said.

Selectman Breton questioned the legality of adding dock replacement to a TIF project authorized by town voters. L’Heureux will check out the issue.

Club contractors and volunteers use state guidelines for multi-use trails, Soares said; trails are available for walking and horseback riding as well as use by four-wheelers and snowmobiles. He said the club has state approval to take out a beaver dam on Hunter Brook that has flooded a trail section.

China fire and rescue chiefs submitted a preliminary proposal for distributing the $44,000 voters approved at the March town meeting for stipends for volunteer firefighters and rescue personnel. More discussion is scheduled for May, after each department has discussed the plan.

Breton and Farrington, who received the proposal the morning of April 17, said there was also agreement that at least one selectman will attend each quarterly joint meeting of the emergency services, as a liaison between the selectboard and the services.

Selectmen appointed the following committee members:

  • Christopher Hahn to the China for a Lifetime Committee;
  • Lindsey Harwath to the Thurston Park II Committee;
  • Belanger and Breton as China’s representatives on the Regional School Unit #18 cost-sharing committee; and
  • Farrington, Tod Detre, Robert O’Connor and Raymond Robert to the Broadband Committee.
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