Vassalboro school board elects new chairman

Vassalboro Community School (contributed photo)

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members began their June 21 meeting by electing Jolene Gamage chairman, succeeding Kevin Levasseur, with Jessica Clark vice chairman, and proceeded through routine business.

Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer reported the 2021-22 year ended well, with field trips, a student concert and the annual eighth-grade promotion ceremony. He thanked all the staff, including the new substitute teachers who made in-school classes possible; the parent-teacher association; and everyone else who made a difficult year successful.

Pfeiffer said summer plans include hiring new people to fill staff vacancies and the usual building maintenance, which will feature interior painting. Board members unanimously gave him authority to issue contracts to new personnel from June 22 through Sept. 15.

Speaking for finance director Paula Pooler, Pfeiffer said the Vassalboro school department will end the fiscal year on June 30 with the budget in the black. The exact amount to be carried forward won’t be known until final bills are paid.

Board members approved the proposed 2022-23 school calendar, which has classes beginning Sept. 1. The calendar is on the school’s website, vcsvikings.org.

The website says summer school begins June 27, and from June 27 through Aug. 19 Vassalboro Community School will offer free lunches to residents under 21 years old. Hours are 11 to 11:20 a.m., Monday through Friday, except July 4.

The Vassalboro School Board will not meet in July; the next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16. It will be preceded by a workshop beginning at 5 p.m.

China selectboard hears from heads of two advisory committees

by Mary Grow

China select board members heard updates from the heads of two advisory committees at their June 21 meeting, and took the actions one requested.

Sheldon Goodine, chairman of the Municipal Building Committee, reported on plans for an addition to the town office, plans that have grown since the committee’s June 9 meeting (see The Town Line, June 16, p. 3).

Goodine shared a sketch of a 34-by-64-foot one-story storage building. At his request, select board members authorized Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood to find an engineer or architect to draft a more formal plan.

Hapgood said the person hired could be paid from the current year’s contingency fund, which has about $23,000 unspent that could be carried forward after the June 30 end of the fiscal year.

Board members also appointed two new members to the Municipal Building Committee, as Goodine requested. Edwin Bailey and Dennis Simmons were appointed until June 30, and later in the meeting reappointed for fiscal year 2022-23, with many other volunteers and appointed officials whose terms end June 30.

Goodine gave board members his opinion that the former portable classroom, used for committee meetings, voting, weekly senior citizen gatherings and other events, is unlikely to last more than another three or four years.

He proposed making the new addition two stories instead of one, on a foundation instead of a slab, with a meeting room on the second floor, made handicapped accessible by a stair lift. An alternative would be a new building to replace the portable classroom.

Hapgood said the portable classroom is too small for voting, given the number of booths required for a town with China’s population. She urged select board members to consider the need for meeting space as they discuss a new building or addition.

Later in the meeting, Hapgood shared results of the June 14 straw poll on the format for the annual town business meeting: of 275 residents who answered (660 came to the polls), 162 preferred an open town meeting and 111 preferred a written ballot. One requested both options; another recommended select board members make decisions – like a town council, Hapgood commented.

Select board members left open what plan or plans the engineer or architect will be asked to work with, waiting to get a cost estimate for his or her work.

The second June 21 report was from Robert O’Connor, chairman of the China Broadband Committee (CBC). He brought select board members up to date on negotiations for phased expansion of broadband service in China in cooperation with Direct Communications of Rockland, Idaho, through its subsidiary, Unitel of Unity, Maine (see The Town Line, June 23, p. 3).

O’Connor outlined a proposal to spend almost $1.2 million to extend service to underserved and unserved China homes, using a state grant, China Tax Increment Financing funds, money from Direct Communications and perhaps other grants and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money.

He said he is likely to return to the select board’s July 5 meeting to ask members to sign a memorandum of understanding with Unitel representatives.

An accompanying map showed that many of the underserved and unserved homes are at the ends of fire roads along the lake and dead-end roads in the backlands. Select board member Wayne Chadwick objected to town funds providing broadband service to those residents; they had to pay for their own electric lines, if they have them, so he believes they should pay for broadband service, if they want it.

One problem CBC members encountered is that the accuracy of the map is doubtful, and an accurate map is necessary to apply for a state grant. O’Connor said he is waiting to hear from the Maine Connectivity Authority about mapping, and about the schedule for the next round of grants.

Chadwick did approve of a new proposed expenditure of ARPA funds – in fact, select board chairman Ronald Breton said, he suggested it. Labeled “Senior Citizens Fuel Support Fund,” as drafted it would “be used to help offset a senior resident’s fuel (electricity, propane, oil) bill up to $500” between Nov. 1, 2022, and April 1, 2023 “or until funding runs out.”

The idea is to make a very simple process by which someone who is over 65 and has lived in China for at least a year could get help with fuel prices next winter. The draft proposal has no income requirement – deliberately, Chadwick said, to avoid limiting the aid to people who are accustomed to filling out financial aid forms.

Breton, Jeanne Marquis and Janet Preston all thought there should be an income cap. Chadwick said he would not object, if the application form were kept simple enough so that people would not be discouraged from signing up.

Preston asked why only senior citizens should benefit. Chadwick replied that families with children have other sources of aid. Preston also pointed out that the proposed expenditure helps for only one year; perhaps a fund to upgrade heating equipment would be more useful.

Whatever select board members decide will be submitted to voters to approve or reject the expenditure. Breton hopes a question can be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Another debate was over Hapgood’s proposal to have the gravel parking areas at the head of China Lake’s east basin paved. When the causeway project was done, they were deliberately left gravel, because paving was supposed to increase runoff into the muldoon that drains into the lake.

The June 21 argument was over whether the packed gravel also creates run-off, and whether pavement would make the situation better or worse.

Hapgood said pavement would permit striping to guide people parking their boat trailers and would discourage people from doing “donuts” in the gravel. Chadwick and audience member Brent Chesley said the gravel is too compacted to absorb water.

Preston feared increased run-off. China Region Lakes Alliance (CRLA) Executive Director Scott Pierz asked from the audience what run-off control measures could go with the proposed pavement.

Pierz wondered if the CRLA’s Youth Conservation Corps might install a buffer between the parking areas and the water. Hapgood immediately interpreted his question as an offer to have Conservation Corps members do the labor if the town provided materials. She welcomed the idea.

Select board members postponed deciding whether to pave to their special end-of-year meeting, scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday, June 30. Hapgood said she would like a decision in time to coordinate the project with work planned at the nearby Circle K convenience store and gas station, under a state Department of Environmental Protection permit.

In other business, select board members chose Pierce Works, LLC, of China, to do this year’s roadside mowing. Hapgood said the town’s request for bids drew no response, so she contacted Pierce, the company doing Windsor’s roadsides.

Select board members left it up to Hapgood and Director of Public Services Shawn Reed to decide whether China needs one or two mowings. The price, Hapgood said, would be $3,995 for a single mowing or $7,990 for two mowings, with roadside brush clearing extra.

Board members approved a long list of appointments for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Hapgood said all are reappointments except the addition of David Savage, Oakland’s codes enforcement officer, as China’s building inspector. Hapgood is serving as China’s interim codes officer and plumbing inspector.

After the June 30 special meeting, the next regular China select board meeting will be Tuesday evening, July 5, again moved a day to avoid a Monday holiday. On June 30, the town office will close at noon so staff can finish end-of-fiscal-year business.

VASSALBORO: Redmond to head select board; church scheduled for demolition

Razing scheduled for July 13. (The Town Line file photo)

by Mary Grow

At newly-elected Vassalboro select board member Frederick “Rick” Denico, Jr.’s first meeting June 23, he and Chris French promptly and unanimously elected Barbara Redmond, senior member of the board, as the new chairman.

Discussion at the lengthy meeting covered planned demolition of the condemned former church building on Priest Hill Road in North Vassalboro; improvements at the transfer station; and end-of-fiscal-year matters, including appointments to town positions for the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

Town Manager Mary Sabins said she has agreed with Mickey Wing, of Casella Waste Management, that his company will demolish the former church, in North Vassalboro, on Wednesday, July 13, and remove the debris, for $14,500.

An order to property owner Chad Caron, prepared by town attorney Kristin Collins and served on June 23, told Caron that any personal property he does not take away before July 13 will be removed. A camper and four vehicles in the yard will also be removed if they are in the way of the demolition, and Caron will be billed for removal and storage.

Sabins said she asked Road Commissioner Eugene Field to block off the lower section of Priest Hill Road for as long as necessary on July 13. Police Chief Mark Brown plans to be present, probably accompanied by a deputy sheriff.

Audience members pointed out dangerous situations on the property. Sabins said she would pass on their information to Wing.

Board members also discussed a non-agenda item, water companies in town, at the instigation of resident Marshall Crandall.

Crandall said Kennebec Water District and the East Vassalboro Water Company are taking up space, limiting use of waterfront property, banning swimming in China Lake’s east basin and generally preventing residents from enjoying a premier natural resource.

He did not expect select board members to do anything about it; he wanted townspeople to get more control, specifically over the East Vassalboro Water Company that serves his household.

Company President Donald Robbins said the company is for sale. He offered two suggestions: a group or individual investor could buy it, with Public Utilities Commission approval (“it’s a good investment,” he said); or customers could band together to create an association or a water district chartered by the Maine legislature. Crandall said he had already spoken with state representative Richard Bradstreet.

Select board members took no action.

Nor did they make a decision on providing a cover for the new compactor at the transfer station. They asked station manager George Hamar to develop some concepts, and agreed to carry forward money left over from improvements made in 2022 into the new fiscal year.

Sabins presented a long list of appointments to town boards and committees, plus herself as town manager and to three other positions and Ellery Bane as town assessor. Most are re-appointments.

There is a vacancy on the planning board, Sabins said; Betsy Poulin has resigned, Paul Mitnik will be moved from alternate member to full member and a new alternate is needed. Three people have expressed interest.

Board members talked about whether they should have candidates fill out applications, or interview the candidates, or both; and about how the present planning board members should be involved in the selection. They decided to ask the current members to review the candidates and afterwards consider what, if anything, select board members should do.

Recreation committee member Melissa Olson said two members of that committee do not want to continue, and Ryan Reed is interested. With these and a few other changes, select board members approve the list, with thanks to the many residents willing to volunteer.

Sabins said she has had three inquiries, one very promising, about the newly-created staff position of program director, to coordinate recreation and related programs.

At the June 14 balloting, 239 voters in a straw poll told select board members they would like to see a new town ordinance to govern commercial solar development; 58 voters said no to the idea. French has collected other towns’ ordinances as guides, and hopes the board will have a Vassalboro ordinance ready to submit to voters on Nov. 8.

The next regular Vassalboro select board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14.

China Broadband Committee (CBC) continues talks with Unitel

by Mary Grow

China Broadband Committee (CBC) members met again with representatives of Unity-based Unitel to talk about a cooperative project expanding broadband service to China residents who currently have no service or inadequate (by 2022 standards) service.

The focus was on expanding service to homes that are currently underserved (have slow internet speed, unreliable service or other issues) or unserved (have no broadband access at all). This extension of a fiber network might be the first phase or phases of a multi-year town-wide upgrade.

Joining the discussion with CBC members at a June 15 meeting were Unitel representatives Michael Akers, Director of Network Operations, and Jayne Sullivan, Director of Internal/External Support; and consultant John Dougherty, Vice President and General Manager at Bangor-based Mission Broadband.

Unitel is now part of Direct Communications, a company based in Rockland, Idaho, that supports broadband service in rural areas.

To develop the planned China project into a proposal to present to town officials and residents, group members agreed they will need two things: specific locations of underserved and unserved areas to be upgraded, and money.

They had a colorful map of China identified as a Connect Maine Map, with a web address: https://maps.sewall.com/connectme/public/. The website has a lengthy note that says, among other things, that most of the map information was reported by internet service providers and that most of it dates from September 2019, with some updates to September 2021.

CBC members Tod Detre, Janet Preston and Jamie Pitney all said the map showed full service in areas they knew to be at best underserved.

In a follow-up email, Detre questioned whether Yorktown Road, which runs through Thurston Park, really has full service, as the map shows. Thurston Park Committee Chairman Jeanette Smith replied that there are no utility poles or lines anywhere in the park, and therefore no internet service.

“The map is the gospel” for funding, Sullivan said, so it needs to be accurate. Akers thinks it is up to a local group – like the CBC – to provide correct information.

Akers presented a preliminary cost estimate of around $1.2 million to provide service to the areas mapped as unserved or underserved. The group agreed that up to half the money might come from Connect Maine grants specifically designated to provide new or improved service to unserved and underserved areas.

Dougherty and Akers talked about Unitel and Direct Communications providing perhaps as much as $300,000. These very tentative estimates would leave the Town of China with about another $300,000 to pay, which Pitney suggested might come from the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund. The TIF document currently in effect appropriates $30,000 a year for broadband for 10 years.

Another possibility, committee chairman Robert O’Connor said, is to allocate the next installment of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to broadband expansion.

Akers’ plan includes a new service building in South China near the junction of Routes 32 and 202. The building would be about 15-by-15-feet, or smaller, he said, and would house electronic equipment. If plans come to fruition, CBC members may well be looking for a building or a lot to lease or buy.

O’Connor made a short presentation to China select board members at their June 21 meeting. On June 15 CBC members tentatively scheduled their next meeting for 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 6; on June 21, O’Connor tentatively rescheduled it to 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 5, before that evening’s select board meeting.

Help by doing speed check

China residents who want to help update the Connect Maine map, or only to find out how good their internet service is, are invited to do speed tests. The link to do them, provided by Jayne Sullivan of Unitel, is https://www.mainebroadbandcoalition.org/. To complete the test successfully, residents must carefully check even what seem like unnecessary boxes, like the one that says “check address.”

Transfer station committee shares updates

by Mary Grow

China’s Transfer Station Committee members held a short June 17 meeting to share updates on various projects, with acting committee chairman Mark Davis (former chairman Lawrence Sikora has resigned from the committee) presiding virtually.

One job is done, Palermo representative Robert Kurek reported. He and China Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood updated the contract between the two towns that lets Palermo residents use China’s transfer station; China select board members approved it; two of Palermo’s three select board members did the same, and he expects the third, who was absent from the meeting, to have no objections (see The Town Line, June 16, p. 3).

A second project, making more use of information obtained from the Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tags issued to transfer station users, is about to get a boost, Director of Public Services Shawn Reed said. Former town employee and committee member Ashley Farrington plans to see what can be done to make the tags more useful.

Palermo member Chris Diesch, who has compiled information from RFID records, plans to share her results with Farrington. Committee members again emphasized that RFID data do not identify individual users.

Reed said he is making progress toward buying the new Volvo loader that select board members authorized. He has a locked-in price – higher than when the select board acted – and might get the machine this fall.

The loader will come with a bucket. Reed said he is looking for reasonable deals on two other attachments discussed with select board members, a snow pusher and a grapple, the latter to help pile brush, metal and similar materials. Kurek endorsed investing in a grapple – very useful, he said.

Reed reported no progress on siting a new concrete storage pad; codes officer Jaime Hanson resigned before he finished advising on possible locations. Davis reported no progress on finding a cover for the second compactor.

Prices for recyclables remain low, Reed said. China’s transfer station currently accepts number two plastic, clear and colored; cardboard; and magazines and newspapers.

Committee members do not plan to meet again until September, with the date to be determined.

Voters pass all articles but one at ballot business meeting

by Mary Grow

As reported last week (see the June 16 issue of The Town Line, p. 12), China voters at their June 14 written-ballot annual town business meeting approved all but one of the articles presented by their select board.

The rejected article would have imposed a temporary moratorium on new commercial solar development. Proponents wanted to give planning board members time to develop and present a new ordinance to regulate such developments.

Opponents, whose arguments proved more convincing, did not want to prevent China landowners from taking advantage of potential offers to sell or lease their property for solar arrays. The vote, as reported by Town Clerk Angela Nelson, was 283 in favor to 368 opposed.

Many articles dealt with appropriations for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2022. The most popular appropriation coming at least partly from local taxes was $166,755 for China’s three volunteer fire departments and China Rescue. Funding was approved by 614 voters; 52 voted no.

Least popular was the request to raise and appropriate $872,895 for administration (mostly town office and related services) plus $25,000 for accrued compensation (to pay money owed to a town employee who retires or resigns). That expenditure was supported by 437 voters; 243 voters opposed it.

Voters were presented with six proposed expenditures from federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. All were approved, by widely varying margins.

Most popular was the request to use up to $20,000 for new emergency generators in the old town hall and the current town office, approved by 551 voters with 117 opposed.

The article asking for up to $38,000 to put emergency 911 signs on every house was almost as well received: 497 voters liked it, 170 voted against it.

Two proposals to benefit people directly also won by generous margins. A request for up to $5,000 for senior events and activities was approved, 540 votes to 132 votes.

A request to use up to $16,200 to give extra compensation to town employees who worked with the public during the worst of the pandemic got 452 votes in favor, with 215 opposed.

Two proposals to use ARPA money to buy new digital signs were least popular. The $33,000 sign to go on Route 32 South (Windsor Road) got 387 votes in favor to 282 opposed. The $20,000 portable sign for speed control and announcements was approved by a 50-vote margin, 352 to 302.

The June 14 voting did not include local elections, which will be held Nov. 8. This year China voters will choose three select board members, three planning board members, four budget committee members and one representative to the Regional School Unit (RSU) 18 board.

In the only contest on either the Democratic or the Republican state primary ballot in China, Katrina Smith, of Palermo, defeated Jennifer Tuminaro, of China, for the Senate District #62 nomination with 207 votes to Tuminaro’s 194. In the whole district, which includes Hibberts Gore, Palermo, Somerville and Windsor, Smith gained the nomination by a 524 to 316 margin, according to June 14 results reported in the Central Maine newspapers.

In November, Smith will face Pamela Swift, of Palermo, who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

The November contest for state Senate District #15 will pit Republican incumbent Matthew Gary Pouliot against Democrat Storme Jude St. Valle. Both are from Augusta; neither had a primary opponent. Senate District #15 includes Augusta, China, Oakland, Sidney and Vassalboro.

China voters also had the chance to answer a straw poll after they left the voting room. The question was whether they want to continue the annual town business meeting by written ballot, as they had just done, or go back to the pre-pandemic open meeting with voting by show of hands. Town Clerk Nelson said the answers were 162 residents preferring the traditional open meeting and 111 residents preferring the written ballot method.

There were also suggestions written on two of the ballot slips, she said: “Want both” and “Let the Select Board do it.”

Vassalboro election results (Spring 2022)

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Town Clerk Cathy Coyne reported the following June 9 local election results.

Frederick “Rick” Denico, Jr., was elected to the select board with 269 votes. He succeeds Robert Browne, who did not seek another term.

For school board, Jessica Clark was re-elected with 227 votes, and newcomer Amy French received 213 votes. French succeeds Kevin Levasseur, who is also retiring.

There were no contests for any position. Coyne said on the ballot for each board, there were seven write-in votes for various people and 15 voters turned in blank ballots.

Voters reaffirmed the 2022-23 Vassalboro school budget approved at the June 6 open town meeting with 235 votes in favor and 55 opposed.

On a straw poll question asking if voters want select board members to draft a new town ordinance to regulate future commercial solar installations, 239 voters said yes and 58 said no. Any ordinance would become effective only after voters approve it.

Fairfield election results (Spring 2022)

Looking south down Main St., in Fairfield. (Internet photo)

Unofficial returns from June 14, 2022, primary election according to Fairfield Town Clerk Christine Keller:

Governor:

D – Janet Mills, 192
R – Paul LePage, 366

Representative to Congress, District 2

D – Jared Golden, 198
R – Bruce Poliquin, 231
R – Elizabeth Caruso, 146

Maine State Senate, Dist. 16

D – David LaFountain, 192
R – Mark André, 58
R – Kevin Kitchin, 208
R – Michael Perkins, 117

Maine House of Representatives, Dist. 67

D – Robert Sexak, 199
R – Shelly Rudnicki, 352

MUNICIPAL

MSAD #49 School Budget Validation Referendum

Yes, 472
No, 226

MSAD #49 Continue 3-year Budget Cycle

Yes, 524
No, 167

MSAD #49 School Board

Rae Davis-Folsom, 582
Marlisa Golder, 5
Karen Kusiak, 34
Blank/Other, 111

Question 1: Public Water Expansion

Yes, 282
No, 402

China election results (Spring 2022)

by Mary Grow

China Town Clerk Angela Nelson reported that voters in China’s June 14 written-ballot annual town business meeting approved 37 of the 38 articles presented, by varying margins. The only one disapproved was Art. 37, asking if voters want a temporary moratorium on new commercial solar developments in town; 283 voters were in favor, 368 were opposed.

The business meeting ballot did not include local elections, which will be held in November.

Voters also approved three questions from the Regional School Unit (RSU) #18 board, on two separate ballots. They endorsed the 2022-23 school budget approved at an open meeting in May, by a vote of 491 in favor to 191 opposed; they voted to continue the annual written-ballot validation of the initial school budget vote for another three years, 507 in favor to 160 opposed; and they authorized the RSU to borrow state funds for building work, 443 in favor to 158 opposed.

In the only contest on either state primary ballot, for Republican state representative from House District 62, China voters gave Katrina Smith, of Palermo 207 votes to 194 for Jennifer Tuminaro, of China. The district includes China, Hibberts Gore, Palermo, Somerville and Windsor.

WINDSOR: Paving contract awarded to Maine-ly Paving for $471,985.50

by The Town Line staff

At their May 24 meeting, the Windsor Select Board voted unanimously to award a paving bid to Jamie Ward of Maine-ly Paving Services, LLC, in the amount of $471,985.50.

In all, there were four bids submitted. Charlie Emerson with All State Construction, Inc., submitted a bid for $502,820.56, Jaeden Folster with Northeast Paving submitted a bid for $642,070 and Jeff Mullis submitted a bid of $584,850.

Keith Hall reported the repair or replacement of the pipe on the Jones Road could last another two to three years. It would be approximately $300,000 to fix the pipe which includes digging and the cost of the pipe. The select board agreed to hold off on repairing the pipe. According to Hall, work will continue on Shuman Road. The town recently received the Safety Enhancement Grant of $1,660 for public works signs, barricades and cones.

Also, Town Manageer Theresa Haskell noted the preventative maintenance work at the transfer station has been completed.

In other business, Haskell read a letter from Vern Ziegler, assessor’s agent, for the 2022 Ratio Declaration and Reimbursement Application, which is filed annual with the Maine Revenue Service to claim homestead reimbursement. The municipality declares a current year certified ratio of 88 percent. The board passed the motion unanimously.

Edward Pollard III, Erica Ontiveros, and Monique Crummett were all presemt to introduce themselves and tell the board why they are interested in serving on the RSU #12 school board, and Moira Teekema explained why she has interest serving on the budget committee.

Also,

  • Haskell read a letter from Waste Management regarding a two percent increase;
  • There was a special meeting of the select board on May 31 to sign the RSU #12 warrant and notice calling Regional School Unit #12 budget validation referendum;
  • Haskell discussed the Kennebec County Hazard Mitigation Plan. She read it and presented it to the board for their consideration.

The select board then went into executive session to discuss personnel matters.