Vassalboro school board members see small piece of budget

Vassalboro Community School (contributed photo)

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro school board members got an introduction to some small pieces of the 2024-25 school budget at their Feb. 13 meeting. There will be more budget discussion at future meetings.

The Feb. 13 agenda included presentations from:

Finance director Paula Pooler on three accounts, a $500 one that will remain the same next year as this year and two that are slated to be reduced by around $8,000, total, in 2024-25;
Transportation director Ashley Pooler, whose presentation sparked a discussion of whether to apply to the state for a new school bus for next year (the preliminary answer is yes); and
Technology director Will Backman, who explained a proposed $8,000 increase in the technology budget.

Another minor budget issue that generated discussion was school board members’ compensation. They currently receive $40 per meeting, a figure Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer said (and, from the audience, select board member Michael Poulin agreed) is less than other area school or select board members get.

Board members want to think about whether to propose an increase, so a decision was postponed.

Future meetings will deal with larger budget figures. This year’s Vassalboro school budget, as approved by voters at the 2023 town meeting, totals a little over $9 million.

Paula Pooler said spending remains on track, and the lunch program, which ran a deficit for some years, is holding its own. Pfeiffer said there are planned kitchen upgrades at Vassalboro Community School, now that the lunch program can support them.

After another discussion of the day care program Jennifer Lizotte operates at VCS, board members agreed to consider extending the lease for more than a year at a time, so Lizotte can make long-range plans with confidence. The topic will be on the agenda for the March school board meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 19.

Windsor select board approves building codes

by The Town Line staff

Windsor Select Board members in attendance, Chester Barnes Jr. was absent, unanimously approved the town of Windsor’s building codes, 4-0, at their meeting on January 30, 2024. Sections of the codes the select board had specific questions about were reviewed in depth. It was also noted that yearly reviews of ordinances will be done as needed.

The board also voted to accept and sign the assessor’s abatement for Samuel A. Newcombe in the amount of $163.85 as recommended by C. Vern Ziegler, Windsor’s assessor’s agent. They also unanimously approved the supplemental tax warrant to Double Eagle Properties LLC, in the amount of $361.05.

Public Works Director Keith Hall reported that truck #6 is back in service, for now. He also stated the 2016 International is still the next truck to be replaced in the public works fleet. In the meantime, McGee covered the extra hours while the truck was out of service. Town Manager Theresa Haskell noted that 40 hours of addition to McGee’s contracted hours were used for roads.

Hall went on to report the transfer station is now fully staffed, and they have also hired a fill-in attendant to help when needed.

Haskell then reported the Windsor Volunteer Fire Department would like to use the MMA Grant to purchase an ice rescue alive sled. This would be for cold water rescue. The grant would cover 70 percent of the slad, and the WVFD would cover the other 30 percent. The board approved it unanimously.

Haskell informed the board the town has received the stabilization refund from the state. Windsor received $14,505.16. The town received about 56 percent of the stabilization refund expected due to a shortage. The state anticipates receiving more funds and get more refunds to the towns in the spring.

Haskell reported switching from TRIO SQL to TRIO WEB would be very costly. She has again looked at the price to make the switch and from a few years ago, the price has almost tripled. She has also been looking into the possibility of using TRIO as the town’s back-up instead of using the current back-up server. Haskell will possibly be looking for new IT options and further review of TRIO options.

Haskell noted that Dirigo Assessing Group is ready to go, and take over for Ziegler as the town’s assessor’s agent. She gave some more background on the group and the employees, and what the working hours and days would be. The select board approved $825 per day for 30 days, one in office day per week, and one remote day per week.

Haskell reported that some towns have come up with a counter offer for Delta Ambulance of $20 per capita, even though Delta was looking for $25 per capita. More information will be forthcoming.

Haskell said work on the 2024-25 municipal budget is coming along, and the first meeting was scheduled for February 6.

Adrian Prindle, a resident, came before the select board with an interest in becoming a conservation committee member. After giving a background of himself, the board unanimously approved his appointment, effective immediately, and running through June 2024.

The next select board meeting was scheduled for February 13.

China planners hear plans for community solar farm

by Mary Grow

At their Feb. 13 meeting, China planning board members heard preliminary plans for a community solar farm in a gravel pit off Windsor Road (Route 32 South) and, as expected, denied an application to convert a building on China Village’s Main Street to apartments.

The solar development is proposed by Perennial Sand Pit Solar, of Hallowell. The application was prepared by Atlantic Resource Consultants, of Freeport. Nichols Lacasse, from Perennial, and Andrew Johnston, from Atlantic, explained the project.

The 3,442 solar panels will be inside an existing gravel pit on the west side of Route 32 South, at least 800 feet from the nearest residence and shielded from public view by the pit walls.

Like other area solar installations, the panels will be inside a seven-foot-high chain-link fence, “wildlife-friendly” (which means a gap at the bottom sized to admit small animals, but not children, Johnston explained).

Access will be over the existing Pit Road. The 20-foot-wide entrance gate will be locked, with a Knox box to allow emergency personnel admission if needed.

The installation will not include water or a septic system. After construction is done, there will be little traffic, little noise and no lights, solid waste, odors, hazardous materials or other neighborhood disturbances.

Because the project is a community solar farm, local residents will be invited to buy in. Those who do will slightly reduce their monthly electric bills.

Planning board chairman Toni Wall listed other information applicants need to provide. If it is added in time for review at the Feb. 27 board meeting, she said the board could vote the application complete that evening and schedule a public hearing for the first March meeting, which should be Tuesday evening, March 12.

The other application considered Feb. 13 was from Carrol White, to convert the former Grange Hall in China Village to a four-unit apartment building (see the Feb. 1 issue of The Town Line, p. 3). Planning board members found the application was complete and the project meets all ordinance criteria except lot size, for which White needs a variance from the China Board of Appeals.

The finding was expected. White intends to ask for a Board of Appeals meeting.

If the variance is granted and the project approved, China Village resident Daniel Coleman intends to carry it through, he and White told the board in January.

Palermo rep., China members have amicable discussion on Palermo residents’ use of transfer station

by Mary Grow

China transfer station committee members, including Palermo representative Robert Kurek, had an amicable discussion at their Feb. 13 meeting, even though one of the topics was whether Palermo residents will continue to have access to the China facility.

As Kurek, China Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood and committee members summarized the situation, the two towns are in the seventh year of a 17-year contract, written and approved by China town officials, that lets Palermo residents share the transfer station, provided that:

Palermo pays China an $18,000 annual fee (with no adjustment for inflation);
Palermo residents buy and use colored bags (the bag price is adjustable, and Hapgood and Kurek agreed on a formula in 2022), but they are not charged for tags, stickers or similar identifying devices; and
Palermo and China residents pay the same fees for bulky waste, white goods, furniture and other items for which fees are charged.

Hapgood, alleging that Palermo residents have violated contract provisions, sent Palermo the required year’s notice to end the contract for cause. Palermo’s attorney replied in January; she disputed the alleged violations and said there is no cause.

Sitting side by side at the Feb. 13 meeting, Kurek and Hapgood sparred politely over the frequency and seriousness of violations and whether Palermo has done enough to track down offenders. Main complaints are Palermo residents’ refusal to use proper bags or pay fees. They have also been charged with lending their transfer station identification cards to people from other towns.

Kurek said Palermo officials track down reported violators. Hapgood said she and other China staff spend time chasing Palermo residents.

No one denied that China residents, too, sometimes violate transfer station rules and are rude to staff. Committee member James Hines suggested charging individuals with theft of services, instead of pursuing an issue between the two towns.

Are your stickers uncooperative?

China residents, is your new transfer station sticker on the bottom right corner of your windshield uncooperative? Wrinkles, crinkles, falls off?

You’re not alone.

At the Feb. 13 transfer station committee meeting, Director of Public Services Shawn Reed said he had the same problem, despite carefully following the instructions town office staff offered when he bought the sticker.

Reed said he ended up taping the sticker to a piece of cardboard and standing it in the correct corner. Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood said it’s okay to tape the sticker to the inside of the windshield, too.

Committee members suggested finding a new vendor who sells higher-quality stickers – if they don’t cost too much more.

Hapgood said she, Kurek and the two town attorneys have a meeting scheduled later this month.

The transfer station five-year plan for maintenance and improvements and the 2024-25 budget were the other main discussion topics.

Three items have been taken care of. Transfer station staffer Cheyenne “Cj” Houle said the new cover on the pre-crusher is installed and satisfactory (and paid for, Hapgood added). A recent $20,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will improve the composting area and fund the soon to be installed solar-powered lights in the free for the taking building.

Committee chairman Christopher Baumann recommended more publicity for the information that not everything can be left at the free for the taking building without paying the fee that is charged for furniture, computers and electronics and other items.

Transfer station users are charged for items for which the town pays disposal fees, regardless of how saleable they appear. Things that can be recycled or otherwise gotten rid of for free, like books and glassware, can be left without charge.

Hapgood suggested people use another alternative, especially for unneeded furniture: leave it at the end of the driveway with a “Free” sign.

Water quality remains an ongoing transfer station issue. Houle and Director of Public Services Shawn Reed said the well water has an unpleasant odor.

Reed explained that the well was drilled through ancient trash, because no one realized the landfill originally started at Alder Park Road, before moving north to create the now-capped trash mountain.

The water had been tested and ruled safe to drink, but last fall, DEP testing found PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination. Further information on remedies is pending.

Staff members wash their hands and clean equipment with the well water; they do not drink it.

Baumann described the transfer station staff as very professional and very polite and said the facility is well run. Kurek called it an asset to China.

Committee members scheduled their next meeting for 9 a.m. Tuesday, March 12.

Palermo council accepts changes to general assistance ordinance

by Jonathan Strieff

Two thirds of the Palermo Town Council met Thursday, February 8, to vote on changes to the towns General Assistance Ordinance. Codes Enforcement Officer, Darryl McKenney, read six minor changes to definitions in the 2023-2024 ordinance, included “earned income, unearned income, and appropriate uses.” The present council members voted unanimously in favor of adopting the changes.

Next, the council discussed preparations and personnel needs for the upcoming, Meet the Candidates, event to be held at the town office on Thursday, February 15, at 6 p.m. Candidates running for open positions on the select board, road commissioner, assessor, general assistance, and the RSU #12 school board will have this opportunity to introduce themselves to residents and respond to questions and concerns. The local elections will coincide with the Presidential Primary Election, to be held at the Palermo Town Office, on Tuesday, March 5.

Council member, Pam Swift, provided a report from the most recent meeting of the Waldo County Broadband Company. Swift shared that select board would be required to elect a representative from Palermo to serve on the Broadband Company’s leadership team. Without discussion, council member, Bob Kurek, was nominated and unanimously elected.

During the meeting, deputy clerk, Melinda Smith, informed the board that the 2023 tax maps had just been uploaded to the town of Palermo website.

Laura Jones announces candidacy for House

Laura Jones

Laura Jones, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, and Vassalboro native, has announced her election campaign for House District #61, in Vassalboro and part of Sidney.

“Vassalboro has always been where my heart is and where I was happy to return to. I served my country for 25 years and now I am happy to serve my community. I will continue to work as hard as I can in Augusta for the people of Vassalboro and Sidney.” said Jones.

Jones, 52, a fourth generation Vassalboro resident, was born in Waterville and raised in Vassalboro. Jones served 25 years in the military, with deployments and assignments to Haiti, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Japan. She currently works at her family’s business, Fieldstone Gardens, in Vassalboro. She has been very active in the community helping organize and promote community events for the Vassalboro Historical Society, Grange, Mill and Vassalboro Business Association. She currently serves on the Board of the Vassalboro Historical Society and is their treasurer.

“Laura’s contributions to the community since retiring from military service are commendable and her life experiences will serve her well in Augusta,” said Barbara Redmond, former Vassalboro selectperson. “Laura is an excellent candidate and will do a great job representing the residents of Vassalboro and part of Sidney in the legislature”.

Visit Laura Jones on Facebook and her campaign website.

WINDSOR: Absent board members delays building codes review

by The Town Line staff

With two of the five select board members absent at their January 16 meeting prevented the select board from reviewing the building code. The building code is to be reviewed in its entirety. Selectman Thomas McNaughton has asked the board to review page 6 closely when the review takes place. Select board members present were Ray Bates, Andrew Ballantyne and Thomas McNaughton. Absent were William Appel Jr., and Chester D. Barnes Jr.

Town manager Theresa Haskell also briefly discussed the six-month 2023-24 budget. There were no concerns from the board, as Haskell pointed out the budget lines for Central Maine Power Co., and the public works trucks.

Haskell also handed out the monthly transfer station report. December was down from last year at this time by $729.30, making the overall total $3,866.59 up for the year.

In other matters:

Haskell discussed an invitation to the select board for a self-protect class being offered to female municipal employees at the Chelsea School. The select board agreed it was a great opportunity for anyone interested in taking the class.
Haskell discussed with the select board writing a letter requesting a grant for Community Concepts offering housing to very low income people who have applied to USDA-Rural Development for funds to assist families in achieving the dream of home ownership through the 523 Self-Help Homeownership Program. The board agreed it would be suitable for Haskell to write this grant letter.
Haskell brought up the fact that the transfer station is short staffed on Saturday. Select board member Ray Bates indicated he will be able to help in the morning, and Haskell volunteered to assist in the afternoon, until a person can be hired to fill the gaps when needed.
The town will be receiving a proposal from Dirigo Assessing, according to town assessor Vern Ziegler. Talks are ongoing with Dustin and Nicole from Dirigo Assessing.
RHR Smith and Company, the town’s new auditor, has requested copies of ledgers and statements to begin the audit.

Resident Steve Hoad commended the Windsor Rescue for their hard work and dedication to the town. With the recent passing of his wife, Helen, he has asked to have donations made to the Windsor Rescue and Windsor Volunteer Fire Department on his wife’s behalf. Donation should be brought to the town office.

The next meeting of the select board was scheduled for January 30.

Winslow council hears explanation of physicians assisting emergency response calls

by Jonathan Strieff

The Winslow town council met Monday, February 12, to hear presentations from two local groups and vote on various resolutions carried over from previous meetings.

The meeting opened with a presentation by Dr. Tim Pieh, of the Kennebec County EMS Physician Response Team. Dr. Pieh described his group as testing the hypothesis that having fully trained physicians assisting with emergency response calls in rural areas can improve health outcomes. Dr. Pieh explained that this model for care is well established in many American cities, but is relatively untested in less populated areas regions.

His group has operated for two months and in that time his team of three physicians has responded to nearly 50 911 calls, 20 of them involving active physician care.  The group received funding from the American Rescue Plan to operate through September, at which point, if the data shows improve health outcomes, Dr. Pieh will pursue additional funding directly from Kennebec County.  The majority of calls responded to have been in Augusta, Waterville, and Gardiner.  The group operates Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and has recently added two new hires in hopes of offering greater coverage.

Next, Kate Newkirk, the chairman of the Winslow Agricultural Commission, spoke to introduce objectives of the commission and some of the programs it supports. The volunteer led commission works to promote agricultural and forestry in Winslow and surrounding towns.  One program, the Voluntary Municipal Farm Support Program, offers taxes reimbursement on agricultural land and infrastructure that preserves soil health and biodiversity. Like other conservation easements, the program offers farmers in Winslow financial compensation for pursuing good agricultural practices. The commission also operates the Winslow Town Forest, a 500-acre woodland preserve open to the public on the Albion Road and the Winslow Community Garden, on Dallaire Street. The community garden offers 30 garden beds to lease for $10 per season. The commission also plans to host the first Winslow Harvest Fest on October 5, 2024, to coincide with this years Fort Halifax Days.

The council voted unanimously to add Peter Beringer, an employee of the U.S. Forest Service to the Agricultural Commission and voted to add Amanda McCaslin, Ella Bowman, Karl Morse, Ray Caron, Tanya Verzoni, Christine Nichols, Mike Heavener, and Mickey Poulotte to the Fort Halifax Park Stage Committee.

Following considerable back and forth, the committee voted to keep a resolution to sell one of Winslow Public Safety’s three ambulances tabled for a later date.

The council voted unanimously to renew a three-year municipal contract with Central Maine Growth Council, a regional economic development group.

The council also voted unanimously to authorize the town manager to sign an agreement with Mold Bros of Maine to remediate mold from the Winslow Fire Department for an amount not to exceed $16,000, as well as an additional agreement with Unique Building Solutions for reconstruction work following the mold remediation for an amount not to exceed $70,000.

China select board spends much time on new budget

by Mary Grow

China select board members spent much of their Feb. 12 meeting going over the draft 2024-25 municipal budget. They gave Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood questions and comments about proposed expenditures, but made no decisions.

Before and after the budget review, board members considered other issues, voting on several.

Board chairman Wayne Chadwick began the meeting by presenting Hapgood with a plaque, “with greatest appreciation” for her 30 years of service to the town.

Resident Sheldon Goodine summarized the growth and activities of the Golden Agers, the senior citizens group that meets Wednesday mornings in the former portable classroom for games and socializing.

Goodine said by summer, the group is likely to have three dozen members each week. The bingo and cribbage groups have grown until there is room for only one more game table in the building, he said.

In 2023, Golden Agers went on two field trips, at a cost of almost $6,500, with the town contributing $2,101 and group members paying the rest. The first 2024 trip, to Isles of Shoals, is already being planned.

Goodine gave select board members two questions to think about: when the Golden Agers outgrow the portable building, where is their next meeting place? And could a bus and driver be provided for their field trips, so they would not have to arrange a rental?

A school bus is not the answer to the second question, Goodine said. The group used one for a trip to Fryeburg Fair and quickly learned that school bus seats are not designed for adults.

After receiving Goodine’s presentation with approval and thanks, board members:

Accepted the highest of three bids for the no-longer-needed 2012 GMC Sierra 1500, $1,234.56 from Ken Dyer, Sr., of China;
Appointed Tara Oxley China’s local health officer;
Approved two financial reorganization recommendations from the auditor; and
Accepted three recommendations from Hapgood to write off uncollectible personal property taxes from businesses no longer operating in town.

Board members postponed action on two draft ordinances. Hapgood said the town attorney is still reviewing the draft of new solar ordinance and draft amendments to the land use ordinance.

After a request for proposals to repair February 2023 water damage in the town office building got no responses six months ago, Hapgood is about to try again. Meanwhile, she said, the town’s insurance has paid $14,542.26.

Board member Janet Preston reported on a meeting with officials from Hannaford supermarkets, ReVision Energy and Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, among others, to discuss a town-owned electric vehicle charging station in Hannaford’s parking lot in South China.

Board member Jeanne Marquis suggested finding out if the installation could include electric bicycle charging.

The proposal is not close to a decision yet, Preston said. The application for a grant for a charging station is due in March.

Select board members spent about an hour talking about the 2024-25 budget. They skipped the proposed public works and transfer station sections, which total $1,860,800 and $681,825, respectively, until they invite Director of Public Services Shawn Reed to join the discussion.

The next regular China select board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., Monday, Feb. 26.

On Tuesday, March 5, China polls will be open in the portable building from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the state presidential preference primary. Absentee ballots are now available, and will be through Feb. 29. The town office will be closed March 5.

Hapgood said budget committee meetings to review the proposed 2024-25 budget are not yet scheduled.

VASSALBORO: New town park officially named Eagle Park

by Mary Grow

It’s official: Vassalboro’s new town park on Outlet Stream and Route 32, a bit north of East Vassalboro village, is named Eagle Park.

Select board members made the decision unanimously at their Feb. 8 meeting, at the request of conservation commission chairman Holly Weidner. Weidner told them a Boy Scout intends to make a sign for the park as his Eagle Scout project.

The name is appropriate, Weidner said, because now that alewives can migrate the length of the stream, from the Sebasticook River to China Lake, the park attracts bald eagles (and great blue herons) that prey on the fish.

The Feb. 8 meeting included recognition of the week that includes Feb. 8 as scouting’s anniversary week. With troop leaders and members present, select board member Frederick “Rick” Denico, Jr., read a proclamation listing the Vassalboro Scouts’ many volunteer projects and activities.

Select board members spent much of the rest of their meeting talking about the Vassalboro Sanitary District’s (VSD) financial problems and about allocating remaining federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds.

The VSD is deeply in debt for the recent connection to the Waterville-Winslow sewage disposal system. Because of debt repayments, the fees charged to its 200 or so customers in East and North Vassalboro have risen steeply and will continue to rise.

Town Manager Aaron Miller said VSD officials have asked the town for $200,000 from the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) fund. Miller said he asked the VSD’s attorney and the town’s attorney to consider the situation together.

Meanwhile, Denico reported, he had connected VSD officials with U. S. Senator Susan Collins’ office, as Vassalboro’s state senator, Matthew Pouliot, recommended. Select board chairman Chris French added that state representative Richard Bradstreet had discussed VSD customers’ concerns with Maine Governor Janet Mills.

Vassalboro’s TIF money comes from taxes paid on the gas pipeline that runs through the town.

Miller said Vassalboro has about $84,000 in unappropriated ARPA funds. Board members discussed three potential uses and approved two, work on the fuel tanks at the public works garage (which are used by Vassalboro’s school, fire and police departments as well as public works) and buying generators for the town office, the food pantry and the Riverside fire station.

A third request was from Police Chief Mark Brown, for a rifle and related items, radar and additional equipment for the police vehicle. A discussion among board and audience members started with whether Brown’s duties justify the additional weaponry – board members said yes, all law enforcement officers face danger – and veered into speeding control.

The claim that Vassalboro select board members told Brown not to enforce speed limits was partially denied. Because he works only 15 hours a week – and, French reminded everyone, voters at the 2023 town meeting rejected a proposal to increase his hours to 20 a week – board members want to minimize time he spends in court defending speeding tickets.

Audience members divided over whether law enforcement is the best way to deter speeders. Weidner, referring to the recent meeting on East Vassalboro traffic, advocated for measures that make the roadway appear narrower – a narrow road is most likely to make drivers slow down, she said.

Board members unanimously approved funds for the rifle and radar, only; they await more information on vehicle modifications.

Douglas Phillips presented the Historical Society’s request for continued ARPA funding for lighting and other work at the former East Vassalboro schoolhouse, owned by the town and leased by the historical society as its headquarters and museum. Select board members unanimously approved.

Miller proposed adding a municipal buildings account in future budgets.

The historical society owns five East Vassalboro buildings, Phillips said: the Weymouth barn on the east side of Main Street south of the Grange Hall, and on the west side of the street the former Taylor house and barn, the adjacent blacksmith shop, the former East Village Fire House just north and the harness shop behind the fire house. Society officials are applying for grants to maintain these buildings.

In other business, board members asked Miller to draft an article for the town meeting warrant asking voters to delete the quorum requirement for a special town meeting. Since 1991, 125 registered voters must sign in before a special meeting can begin, a requirement select board members consider an obstacle to trying to hold a special meeting.

The next regular Vassalboro select board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 22. It will start with a public hearing on proposed amendments to the town’s solid waste ordinance (now renamed the Solid Waste and Recycling Ordinance).