TOWN OF FAIRFIELD NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING

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

The Fairfield Town Council will hold a Public Hearing in the Council Chambers, at the Community Center, at 61 Water Street, on Wednesday, August 12, 2020, at 6:30 p.m., for the purpose of hearing public comments on the following matter:

To hear from the public on a request from SAPPI North America, Inc. – Somerset Plant for a renewal to operate a solid waste facility on company owned land off Route 201, in the Town of Fairfield.

Copies are available at the Town Office. All interested persons are invited to attend the public hearings and will be given an opportunity to be heard at that time.

Signed: Christine Keller,
Town Clerk

Vassalboro selectmen set tax rate for 2020-21 at 14.35 mils

by Mary Grow

Newly-elected Vassalboro Selectman Barbara Redmond got an introduction to almost everything the board does at her first meeting on July 23. She participated in the on-going discussions of paying bills and overseeing town departments; in the annual ritual of setting the tax rate; and in the once-in-a-lifetime planning of a 250th anniversary celebration.

Selectmen unanimously set the 2020-21 tax rate at 14.35 mils, or $14.35 for each $1,000 of valuation. By town meeting vote, the first quarterly payment is due at the town office by the close of business Monday, Sept. 28. Town Manager Mary Sabins expects tax bills will be mailed out by the week of Aug. 10.

The 2019-2020 rate was 15.6 ($15.60 for each $1,000 of valuation), Sabins said. However, the lower rate will not necessarily mean residents get a lower tax bill for 2020-21, because, Sabins said, the assessor has increased all valuations by 11 percent, as required to bring local valuations closer to the state’s.

Sabins reported on two staff changes, one done and one pending.

Adam Daoust of Vassalboro has been hired as the new assistant at the transfer station, starting July 28. And the town is advertising for a successor to Deputy Clerk Debbie Johnston-Nixon, who is retiring from the town office staff effective Aug. 21.

The town is also advertising the old police cruiser, a 2007 Impala, for sale, Sabins said.

Selectmen had a memo from Engineer Al Hodsdon, of A. E. Hodsdon Engineers, in Waterville, on tentative plans for a transfer station redesign. They decided to invite Hodsdon for a discussion at their Aug. 20 meeting.

Board members reviewed Sabins’ draft bid specifications for a new metal roof on the snack shack at the ballfields and approved with one change.

The recreation committee oversees the ballfields and snack shack. Sabins said the committee plans to show a movie, to a drive-in audience, as a fund-raiser. The date is to be determined.

Public Works Director Eugene Field got selectmen’s approval to have Bog Road repaved this year instead of Lombard Dam Road, which he will add to the summer 2021 schedule. Preparatory culvert work on Lombard Dam Road has been delayed, he said. The Bog Road work will be 0.8 miles longer, but paving bids were low enough so the budget won’t be exceeded.

Selectman John Melrose, newly-elected board chairman, pointed out that Bog Road is closer to other 2020 paving work, an advantage. Having traveled the road, he agreed it could use resurfacing.

Sabins reported on an email from Scott Pierz, of China, President of the China Lake Association, proposing consideration of China assuming management of the China Lake outlet dam in East Vassalboro. China selectmen heard Pierz’s suggestion that China buy the dam at their July 20 meeting (see The Town Line, July 23, p. 3).

Melrose’s reaction was, “Leave it be for now,” and board member Rob Browne added, “See what happens.” Sabins said there is no rush; any decision to sell town property would need voter ratification, presumably at the spring 2021 town meeting.

Melrose has been heading planning for the 250th anniversary of Vassalboro’s incorporation as a town on Apr. 26, 1771, including superintending improvements at the park in East Vassalboro. Selectmen briefly discussed setting up an anniversary committee and suggested two residents they thought might be willing to head it.

Residents who are interested in the committee or have ideas for the celebration – as Browne pointed out, “This is a tough time to plan mass gatherings” – should get in touch with town office staff.

Selectmen left two other matters for a future meeting, either Aug. 20 or Sept. 3: public hearings on planned disbursements of previously-promised additional Tax Increment Finance (TIF) funds to the Alewife Restoration Initiative (ARI) and the Vassalboro Sanitary District (VSD); and a presentation by the town’s auditor on the most recent completed audit, for fiscal year 2018-2019.

China planners to review two potential ordinances

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members are scheduled to review two potential ordinances at their July 28 meeting, set for 6:30 p.m., in the town office meeting room. They are a Recreational Marijuana Ordinance and a Local Food and Self Governing Ordinance.

Interested residents are welcome at this first open planning board meeting since early March, if they wear masks and observe social distancing. Those without masks will not be admitted. The meeting will be live-streamed as it happens and archived for future viewing.

LongRoad Energy to hold public informational meeting

by Mary Grow

LongRoad Energy Management sponsors a public informational meeting on a proposed solar project at 2579 Riverside Drive (Route 201) in Vassalboro at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 28, in the gymnasium at Vassalboro Community School. See The Town Line, July 16, for more information on the project for which Longroad is seeking state and local approval.

Vassalboro selectmen to set tax rate

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen intend to set the 2020-21 tax rate at their Thursday, July 23, meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m., in the town office meeting room.

Two other agenda items are suggesting ways to celebrate the town’s 250th birthday in 2021 and reviewing the Recreation Department’s proposed bid specifications for a steel roof on the snack shack at the town ballfields.

Interested residents are welcome to attend the selectmen’s meeting. Masks are strongly recommended; social distancing will be observed.

Vassalboro school board makes five decisions at meeting

Vassalboro Community School. (source: jmg.org)

by Mary Grow

At a short July 20 virtual special meeting, Vassalboro School Board members took five important decisions, without dissent.

They accepted the almost $7.97 million 2020-21 school budget voters approved at the annual town meeting June 22 and confirmed at the polls on July 14.

They approved two-year contracts with bus drivers, custodians, food service workers and secretaries. Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer said each provides three percent annual pay increases.

The contract with educational technicians is still under discussion, Pfeiffer said.

The next regular Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 18, in the cafeteria, at Vassalboro Community School.

WINDSOR: Every article but one passed unanimously

by Mary Grow

A dozen Windsor voters, mostly masked, who spaced themselves around the Windsor School gymnasium were in an agreeable mood at the July 15 town meeting.

Supplemented by four selectmen and several town employees, they voted unanimously in favor of every warrant article except one. That one they voted unanimously against; moderator Jeffrey Frankel even asked for a revote to make sure he hadn’t missed a murmured dissent.

The defeated article was the annual one asking voters to override the state-set limit on the amount of spending from taxation. Assessor’s assistant Vern Ziegler said previously-approved spending for 2020-21 was more than $900,000 under the limit, so the article was unnecessary.

Normally a written vote is required on the spending limit, but Frankel said Governor Janet Mills waived the requirement to minimize contact among voters and staff.

Most of the articles dealt with the 2020-21 budget. Voters agreed to put $446,000 into eight different reserve funds; approved requested expenditures, with public works, administration and the transfer station being the most expensive areas; and bought the public works department a new plow truck for $175,000, with $100,000 coming from the truck replacement reserve fund and $75,000 to be borrowed over three years.

The spending article that took the most time, because each item in it needed an individual vote, was the appropriation of $3,450 to nine out-of-town social service agencies that serve Windsor residents.

Meeting attendees got information about town business from Town Manager Theresa Haskell’s opening statement and from answers to questions raised as articles were briefly discussed.

Haskell said town officials had prepared a pre-Covid-19 budget that they revised downward beginning in mid-March. The budget approved at the meeting had $293 less in expenditures than the 2019-20 budget, she said.

Two articles generated questions about cemeteries, specifically lot sales and maintenance. Each answer included, “Talk to Joyce,” meaning cemetery sexton Joyce Perry. Selectman Ronald Brann praised Perry’s work.

The Veterans’ Memorial Fund got $10,000 from voters. Haskell said with previous private donations and town appropriations there is enough money for the memorial itself; future fund-raising will provide a base, ground work and lighting, followed by a wall and a parking area.

Haskell said the town crew has finished roadside mowing. Voters asked why Routes 32 and 105 were still overgrown.

They’re the State of Maine’s responsibility, Haskell replied. Routes 32 and 17 are state roads, and the state is responsible for year-round maintenance. Route 105 is a state aid road with shared maintenance: the town plows it, but the state does summer work. She blamed Covid-19 for state workers being behind schedule this year.

The town meeting opened a couple minutes after its announced 6:30 p.m. start and adjourned at 7:50 with a round of applause for moderator Frankel.

The July 15 open meeting was preceded by a July 14 written-ballot local election, with no contests on the ballot.

Brann and Richard H. Gray, Jr., were re-elected for three-year terms as selectmen. Successful write-in candidates for the budget committee were Robert Holt, Tom McNaughton and Jeremy St. Onge. Ryan Carver was unopposed for a seat on the Regional School Unit (RSU) #12 school budget committee.

China selectmen approve town office hours

by Mary Grow

At their July 20 meeting, China selectmen approved new Town Manager Becky Hapgood’s proposed town office hours, emphasizing her plan to review them after a few months’ trial.

The new schedule, effective Saturday, Aug. 1, will be as follows: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday the office will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday hours, 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and on the first Saturday of each month, beginning Aug. 1, the office will be open from 8 to 11 a.m.

Wayne Chadwick dissented on the decision, because Hapgood proposes reinstating Saturday morning hours only one Saturday a month, instead of every week as in pre-pandemic days.

Chadwick and Board Chairman Ronald Breton pointed out that in an advisory referendum in November 2019, China voters endorsed Saturday hours. The referendum question asked voters if they preferred to have three town office hours from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays, or from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturdays. The result was 490 votes for continuing the then-current Saturday schedule and 180 votes for changing to a late closing on Thursdays.

Donna Mills-Stevens recommended accepting Hapgood’s plan as a temporary Covid-19 measure, to be reconsidered at an appropriate future time.

The other major discussion July 20 was about China Lake’s water quality. Tom Michaud and Scott Pierz came to the meeting to talk about water quality programs in the age of Covid-19; they have received questions about whether the lake is turning green.

Pierz said Kennebec Water District Director of Water Quality Robbie Bickford said Secchi disc readings showed the lake water is nowhere near as clear as it was this time last summer. Pierz cited experts from Colby College and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection who blame the unusually hot weather for poor water quality.

The water level is also high, in China Lake and, Chadwick commented, in other area lakes. Michaud thinks the high water might be a factor, and he questions whether last fall’s drawdown was enough to drain off a significant amount of the phosphorus that feeds algae blooms.

Pierz suggested that China selectmen consider exploring the possibility of acquiring the East Vassalboro outlet dam, which controls the water level, from the Town of Vassalboro. Breton said a first step would be to seek legal advice on buying property located in another town.

Michaud’s report on lake issues was that two programs, gravel road work and Lakesmart recognition for landowners with effective run-off controls, are continuing in modified form this summer, despite Covid-19.

For the Tax Increment Finance Committee, he reported that two bids were received for Phase Two of the causeway project at the head of the east basin and TIF members, Hapgood and others will begin discussions with the low bidder. Phase Two involves shoreline protection and a walkway to complement the new causeway bridge.

In other business July 20, selectmen:

  • Appointed former selectman Jeffrey LaVerdiere to fill a vacant position on the Board of Appeals.
  • Approved a request from the Four Seasons Club to operate off-road vehicles on sections of Pleasant View Ridge and Bog roads on Aug. 15, as part of a planned family fun ride that will be mostly over the club’s trails. Club President Tom Rumpf’s letter said monitors will be on hand to keep trail riders and vehicular traffic safely separated.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, Aug. 3.

New China town manager takes over with unprecedented local support

China town manager Rebecca Hapgood. (photo by Eric W. Austin)

by Eric W. Austin

As China’s new town manager, Becky Hapgood is taking over the position at one of the most challenging times in the town’s history. With big projects on the horizon, like the Causeway Phase 2 construction planned for later this summer, and the COVID-19 pandemic making all aspects of life more complicated, Hapgood is facing a host of responsibilities right out of the gate not usually associated with being a small-town manager.

Thankfully, Hapgood has a number of factors in her favor. She’s worked at the China town office for nearly three decades and was recognized for 25 years of service in a ceremony last year. During that time, she has served under three town managers in China and watched at least that many come and go in nearby towns. This experience has given her a perspective on the job not possessed by most who take up the position. I asked her what she has learned.

“Always be open and transparent,” she says. “Have conversations. Listen to what people say. Those are my big things. Transparency is key. Having communications — not only with the townspeople, but with the employees, because the employees are what back you up. They are your support system.”

Luckily, she’s feeling pretty good about her team at the town office. “I love our people,” she gushes enthusiastically. “We have some very top-notch people.”

It helps that she already thinks of the town of China as home. Growing up here, her parents opened and operated the Back’s Dairy Bar, in South China, for many years. After high school, she attended Thomas College, in Waterville, and graduated with a degree in business management. With this experience and education, one thing she understands is the importance of supporting local businesses.

“My father always used to drive home that it was sometimes difficult to do business in China,” she recalls. “It was something that I always remember as a kid growing up. When you have a business, there are always hurdles, but to have somebody work in conjunction with you … or just help you to access things you need to start up a business or to help your business grow [is an important part of the town manager job].”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also created new difficulties not encountered by most of her predecessors. The risks posed by the virus have turned mundane activities and services offered by the town office into new and unique challenges.

It doesn’t help that the town office is busier than ever, partially because one staff person is currently out on leave, which has left the office shorthanded, but also because the demands on the town office staff have increased in the two and a half decades Hapgood has been there.

“The community is far busier,” she says. “We just can’t keep up. We can barely do our day-to-day stuff. We’ve got an election coming up in July and there’s no time to breathe! [With] the election, and Dennis [Heath, current town manager,] getting done, we’re just keeping our heads above water.”

And in the current health crisis, the recent election presented a special challenge. Since the annual business meeting was canceled because of the pandemic, all of the items normally decided at the meeting were on the written ballot instead.

“[We’re] trying to figure out how to get a mass amount of people into a voting booth when we now have a written ballot that is four pages — and that’s just the municipal ballot,” she says.

The pandemic creates other, unique challenges for town offices holding elections. Officials handing out ballots will need to stand behind Plexiglass shields, and volunteers manning the voting machines need to maintain a safe distance at all times. Residents waiting to vote will need to be kept out of the sun while still observing proper social distancing. All of this adds additional complications to an already hectic day.

Things weren’t exactly easy even before the current crisis. “The amount of time needed to invest in what we do to prepare for an election is so much more than it was even ten years ago,” says Hapgood.

One of the other trends that Hapgood has observed over the last several decades is a drop in local community involvement. Volunteers are harder to find than they used to be. Town committees are sometimes sparsely populated and filling vacancies is more difficult. Hapgood has been in a unique place to observe this alarming trend, in her position as town clerk, as a volunteer coach for China youth athletics, and as one of the founders of the China Community Days event, which was skipped this summer for the first time in 17 years.

“We’re finding out more now that people aren’t necessarily into volunteering and participating,” she says. “We used to see a lot of volunteers, whether it be for athletics or things here [at the town office]. Our volunteer numbers are dwindling. People have other focuses in their lives.”

And that was before the current complications resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just as a coach in youth [athletics] over the years…the numbers have decreased steadily. That’s why, back in the day, we started China Community Days,” she explains, “because we could see that [civic engagement] was slipping, and this gave us an avenue to bring everybody together.” Even that effort is struggling though. “It’s evident within the China Community Days volunteers,” she admits with a sigh.

More than anything, Hapgood would like to see that trend reverse. “I am all about the community,” she says. “This is where I grew up…and [I’m] very invested in the community. I like to see where the kids go off to school and see them return [and] watch their kids grow up…and welcoming people back to town when they move back. Those are the important things. Those are the connections we need here — we need more of them!”

After her many years dedicated to the town of China, it’s no surprise that Hapgood is taking over the town manager position with a great deal of community support. In my research for this article, I invited local residents to leave comments on Facebook about their interactions with Becky over the years. Here are a few of the things they shared. (The following comments have been lightly edited for spelling errors and readability.)

“Becky Hapgood always has a ‘positive can-do and super helpful’ manner in approaching any question I have ever posed to her at the town office,” says Christine Castner, a South China resident who grew up in China Village. “That attitude has been the over-riding impression I have had with any interaction with Becky.”

“Hunted and vacationed in China for years,” comments Paul Lucas. “When the opportunity came in 2006, we bought a home and moved to China. On our first visit to the China town office, Becky introduced herself and helped us by explaining what we needed to do to register vehicles, where to vote, about the Homestead Act, and directions to the Registry of Motor Vehicles for driver’s licenses. When my wife, Jane, and I left the town office that day, we knew we had made the right decision moving to China. Becky is always polite, professional and helpful. She will always take a moment to smile and say hello. A wonderful choice for town manager. Congratulations.”

Wendy Paine says, “Becky has always taken calls, texts, and private messages on weekends and after hours. She totally didn’t need to do this but always has! And [she has] always encouraged people to reach out to her anytime!”

For Becky Hapgood, the town of China is her life and she’s always on duty. “If we’re in Hannaford, people stop me all the time and ask questions — and it’s no big deal!” she insists. “Whether it’s ten o’clock at night or eight o’clock in the morning, that’s what I’m here for.”

The lengths she will go to seem, in fact, to have no bounds. Bunny Caldwell told me, “Becky has always been great to do business with. She helped us register our Maine dogs from Florida, and one year even chipped in a couple of bucks of her own that we owed in our taxes. We paid her back as soon as we got home. She always is friendly and has a big smile for everyone.”

Resident Kim Leighton Matthews expressed similar sentiments: “She has always gone [above and] beyond to help solve any problems we may have had with voter registration, a work permit for [our] teenage daughter, registering our dog, etc…” she says in a comment. “It has always felt less like dealing with bureaucracy and more like neighbor helping neighbor with Becky.”

Another resident, Michelle Bourque, saw Matthews’ comment and agreed wholeheartedly: “You nailed it: ‘More like neighbor helping neighbor with Becky.’”

Jeanne Marquis, who lives in China Village and serves as volunteer coordinator for the China for a Lifetime Committee, a local group that supports community activism, confirms Hapgood’s commitment to helping others. “Becky has connected local residents who need a little help to the China for a Lifetime Committee,” she says. “It is always in confidence so I can’t tell you the details, just that the individuals are very appreciative. She has a big heart!”

Another resident, Terrie Farris, remembers her time in China youth athletics under Coach Hapgood. “Becky was my J.V. basketball coach at China schools,” she recalls, “and she is someone I will never forget. She was always patient, supportive, understanding, caring and compassionate. She put her all into helping us become better players. She was always upbeat, positive — a can-do attitude with so much love in her heart to share with us all. I think it’s important for a coach to be able to connect with her players on a personal level and she was always tuned into us all as individuals. Becky is someone I’ve never forgotten or lost touch with as I’ve grown into an adult and a mother. She is just fabulous and I love seeing her expand on her career path.”

According to longtime resident Martha Wentworth, the new town manager also has a mischievous sense of humor. “Becky is a great prankster,” she says. “That has got to make your article. I have a story for you if you need one, but I’m only one in a pool of many China residents that have been schooled by this fine lady. I have yet to get her back.” Let’s just say, one of the stories involves wanted posters plastered all over a parking lot and another involves cars filled with packing peanuts!

Angela Nelson, who has worked for municipalities in Palermo and Sidney, and is now taking over the town clerk position in China, remembers leaning on Hapgood’s experience over the years. “When I first started in the municipality world in March of 2012,” she says, “Becky was the friendly voice on the other end of the phone, eager to help in any way she can. She even stopped by my office to help me with my first ever accounts payable warrant. Now, here we are eight years later and I have the privilege to work with her every day! Her vast knowledge of China and municipal government is irreplaceable. Congratulations, Becky.”

Michelle Laweryson Presby seems to summarize the broad community feelings about Becky Hapgood when she commented: “Becky was always a talented and much-appreciated high school sport photographer – not only for her athletes, but for the entire team. Becky always goes above and beyond in everything she does personally and professionally!”

As you have probably concluded already if you’ve read this far, Becky is facing a tough time ahead as China’s new town manager, with big projects on the horizon, an uncertain future with COVID-19, and a trending lack of civic engagement that is impacting many small towns in Maine and around the country – but she’s also taking on the position with an overwhelming and unprecedented level of local community support.

Contact the author at ericwaustin@gmail.com.

Vassalboro voters confirm school budget

Voters had two questions remaining from their June 22 open town meeting to answer at the polls July 14, local elections and the annual school budget referendum.

Town Clerk Cathy Coyne reported the results of uncontested elections were as follows:

  • Barbara Redmond got 694 votes for a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen. She will succeed Lauchlin Titus, who retired.
  • For three-year terms on the School Board, incumbent Erin Libby Loiko was re-elected with 582 votes and newcomer Zachary Smith got 557 votes. Smith will succeed Susan Tuthill, who did not run for re-election.

The $7.97 million school budget approved June 22 for fiscal year 2020-21 was confirmed by a vote of 624 yes to 124 no. Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer said before the June 22 meeting that the new budget, which is barely higher than the 2019-20 budget, will have no significant effect on the tax rate.