Monument Trail at Thurston Park improved by Eagle service project

A photo of the Scouts, leaders, family and friends at the monument that worked on the trail, from left to right, front row, Jennefier Boynton, Scout Samuel Boynton (in front of the stone), Leader Sean Boynton. Second row, Leader Mike Choate, Scouts Nick Choate, Nathan Choate, Brady Newell, Kameron Rossignol, Leader Derek Rossignol, Scouts Bryson Pettingill, Isaac Audette, Kaiden Kelley, Leader Kern Kelley. Third row, Leader Scott Adams, Ross and Genevieve Hall, Scoutmaster Christian Hunter, Leaders Lee and Danielle Pettengill.

by Chuck Mahaleris

Samuel Boynton, from Boy Scout Troop #479, recently completed his Eagle Service Project. The goal was to recover a poorly kept trail in Thurston Park, in China. Thurston Park is nearly 400 acres of forest with streams and waterfalls, diverse wildlife, and cultural and historical landmarks with 5.2 miles of trails in the northeast corner of the town of China.

The trail’s name is the Monument Trail and his project included clearing the trail, removing a large fallen oak tree, and painting new (red) blazes to make the trail safer and more accessible for the public. The Monument Trail (0.24 mile long) is a ridge top trail that provides access to an 1838 monument stone marking the China-Albion-Palermo town borders. This also marks the boundary between Kennebec and Waldo Counties.

Family, friends and other Scouts helped Samuel to complete his project on August 6, 2022. China residents as well as others will benefit as they will be able to locate the monument. Stop by Thurston Park and take a look at this worthy Eagle project and view the historical monument.

Photos courtesy of Chuck Mahaleris

The monument trail is well marked with a red blaze on trees to keep hikers from getting off the trail.

The three town monument stone: C – for China – the back side has 1838 and P for Palermo – the left side has A for Albion.

China select board adopts temporary amnesty on all unpermitted property changes

by Mary Grow

At their Sept. 26 meeting, China select board members unanimously adopted a temporary amnesty program for residents, permanent and seasonal, who made changes on their property without getting a required permit.

China’s land use ordinances list numerous actions for which a permit is required, from the codes officer, the planning board or the plumbing inspector. In the last few years, with China frequently changing codes officers and with the pandemic limiting face-to-face communication with town officials, getting a correct permit in a timely fashion has sometimes been difficult.

Information compiled by Dwaine Drummond, temporary assistant to new codes officer Nicholas French, and town manager Rebecca Hapgood, shows “hundreds” of instances of non-compliance with permit requirements.

Drummond explained in his written proposal, titled “Self-reporting and compliance with the Town of China Land Use Ordinance,” that some violators did not know they needed a permit; a minority ignored regulations; and in some cases, violations resulted from “miscommunication or misinterpretation of codes and construction techniques.”

Select board members agreed that people who report themselves before Nov. 30 for not getting a required permit will be eligible to apply and, if their project meets requirements, to get a permit for the regular permit fee. Normally, an after-the-fact permit costs substantially more.

If whatever was done without a permit is not legal under China’s ordinances, the property-owner will be required to undo it to the extent necessary to make it legal or to make other reparation, for example by replanting an area in the shoreland from which trees were illegally removed.

Land use ordinance requirements apply to buildings of all sorts; additions and changes to existing buildings; uses and changes of use of land and buildings; signs; tree-cutting and almost any other change in the natural environment anyone could envision. The complete ordinance is on the town website, china.govoffice.com, and town office staff are available to answer questions during office hours.

On a related matter, select board members decided that if Drummond and French recommend action on potentially dangerous buildings, they will hold local hearings, rather than immediately referring any cases to court. As part of the town’s responsibility for safety, select board members are empowered to investigate abandoned or neglected buildings and, if they find a building poses a threat to health or safety, to order the owner to repair or demolish it.

In other business Sept. 26, select board members reviewed records from the town’s new speed monitoring sign, after its September placements on Lakeview Drive and Neck Road.

On Lakeview Drive in a 45-mile zone, between 2 and 5 a.m. none of 26 drivers obeyed the limit. Eighteen were doing at least 55 miles an hour, and eight were doing 65 or more.

Overall, in a recorded week more than half the drivers, 930 out of 1777, obeyed the limit as they approached the flashing speed limit sign; 99 were recorded as going 65 or faster.

Even on the narrow, winding Neck Road (also with a 45-mile-an-hour limit), the sign recorded five drivers who exceeded 65 miles an hour. Overall, compliance was high on Neck Road: 4,717 drivers out of a total of 5,383 obeyed the limit as they approached the sign, and the average speed was below the limit, rather than above as on Lakeview Drive.

Results of the survey are being shared with the Kennebec County deputy sheriffs who patrol China roads, Hapgood said.

Select board members appointed three residents to the Regional School Unit (RSU) #18 Cost Share Committee: board chairman Ronald Breton, board candidate Brent Chesley and RSU representative Dawn Castner.

Board members voted to advertise and sell by sealed bid an unneeded storage building currently on the public works lot. Bought for a dollar from RSU #18 some years ago, it has not been used.

Board member Janet Preston asked if it would meet the need for additional records storage that board members and Municipal Building Committee members have discussed for months. Hapgood’s dismayed expression was a sufficient answer.

Following up on a Sept. 12 discussion (see The Town Line, Sept. 15, p. 2), Hapgood said consultant Lynn Gilley Martin, of Fire Safety Compliance Associates, had arranged meetings with members of China’s volunteer fire departments and China Rescue, as they work on compliance with state standards.

Ronald Breton

The select board meeting was preceded by two public hearings. One was on the Nov. 8 local ballot, which includes local elections for select board, planning board, budget committee and RSU director, plus eight local referendum questions. The other was on state amendments to the General Assistance Ordinance and to the amounts of aid in the ordinance’s appendices.

The two audience members present had no comments. No one participated on line. After Breton closed the hearings, the ballot was approved, and later board members approved the ordinance amendments.

During the select board members’ comments at the end of the meeting, Breton objected strongly to the way a few people, whom he did not name, are using the Friends of China website. He accused them of spreading misinformation and of making allegations about town government that he labeled slander.

He had seen none of the complainers at any meeting or hearing, Breton said. He challenged them to come and see how China’s government actually works.

The Friends of China website was set up to be helpful, and there’s no place for such misuse of an information medium in this town, he said. “This is a good town.”

Because of the Monday, Oct. 10, Indigenous People’s Day holiday, the next regular China select board meeting will be Tuesday evening, Oct. 11.

2022-’23 Real Estate Tax Due Dates

Albion

Taxes due September 30, 2022
(Interest begins October 1, 2022)

China

Semi-annual
September 30, 2022
March 31, 2023

Fairfield

Quarterly

September 29, 2022
November 2, 2022
February 8, 2023
May 10, 2023

Oakland

August 19, 2022
October 14, 2022
January 13, 2023
March 10, 2023

Palermo

November 17, 2022

Sidney

September 1, 2022
(Interest begins October 1, 2022)

Vassalboro

Quarterly
September 26, 2022
November 28, 2022
February 27, 2023
April 24, 2023

Waterville

Quarterly
October 14, 2022
December 9, 2022
March 10, 2023
June 9, 2023

Windsor

Semi-annual
September 30, 2022
March 31, 2023
(Tax club due dates are the 15th of each month.)

Winslow

Quarterly
October 6, 2022
December 8, 2022
March 9, 2023
June 8, 2023

To be included in this section, contact The Town Line at townline@townline.org.

China planners OK childcare business

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members unanimously approved the only application on their Sept. 13 agenda, authorizing Kayla Saraiva to open Brookview Childcare at her home at 14 Brookview Lane, in South China.

Saraiva said a home daycare had been run in the house until just before she bought the property in the fall of 2019. She plans a similar operation, she said.

Her application says she intends to accept up to 12 children, aged from six weeks to 12 years. Hours of operation will be 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

Codes officer Nicholas French said he had checked the septic system.

After the permit was approved, board member Walter Bennett asked French to talk with appropriate people about the crumbling pavement on Route 3, where the Family Dollar store entrance meets the highway.

French said the store’s permit required pervious pavement for the parking lot, as a run-off control measure; and pervious pavement requires maintenance.

Board chairman Scott Rollins said he would check with the state highway department. He asked French to talk with officials at Family Dollar.

The next regular China Planning Board member is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27.

Open planning board seats

With three planning board positions open in November, there is only one name on the Nov. 8 local ballot: James Wilkens is unopposed for re-election as the at-large member.

District 2 incumbent Toni Wall said she will accept re-election if she receives the most write-in votes. Since she has been continuing her interrupted Appalachian Trail hike, she submitted her nomination papers hastily and was not surprised to hear that they were short a signature.

District 4 member and current board chairman Scott Rollins said he will not serve another term. He has too many other responsibilities, he said. District 4 is the southwestern part of China.

PHOTO: Winning pumpkin

The China Hannaford store manager Jon Fortier recently took first prize with the largest pumpkin at the Windsor Fair. The pumpkin weighed 1,209 pounds and Jon grew it in his backyard garden in just 57 days. (photo by Eric W. Austin)

China tax rate set at 12.05 mil

by Mary Grow

China’s property tax rate for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which began July 1, will be 12.05 mils ($12.05 for each $1,000 of valuation).

After a series of frustrating delays caused by computer issues, the new rate was approved unanimously by the board of assessors (also the select board) at a special meeting Sept. 6.

By June’s town business meeting vote, which select board members cannot change, the first half payment of local taxes is due at the town office by 4:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 30.

Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood said bills would go to the printer as soon as possible. If the printer is speedy, they might be in the mail by Sept. 9 or Sept. 12. They will also be on the town website, china.govoffice.org.

The 2022-23 rate is a decrease of 2.35 mils, or $2.35 per $1,000, from the 2021-22 rate of 14.4 mills ($14.40 for each $1,000 of valuation).

The lower rate does not mean everyone’s taxes will go down. Taxes are based on valuation multiplied by mil rate; some valuations will have increased, either through assessor William Van Tuinen’s adjustments as prices change or because property-owners have made improvements.

China’s tax rate is usually set by mid-August. The computer problems made other municipalities using the program that China uses send their bills closer than usual to due dates, Hapgood and assessing assistant Kelly Grotton said.

Interest will be charged on late payments, again by a town meeting vote that selectmen cannot override. Grotton said the interest rate is low enough so that for most property-owners, a few days’ interest will add only pennies to the bill.

Next year, Hapgood said, the warrant article for the annual town business meeting will be reworded to allow for unexpected delays – making the first due date either a fixed date “or 30 days after the tax commitment,” for example.

Hapgood said expenditures from taxes will rise in the current fiscal year, for the town, the school department and Kennebec County. An increase in valuations more than offset the increased spending, making the lower tax rate possible.

China select board approves one consultant; postpones another

by Mary Grow

At their Sept. 12 meeting, China select board members discussed hiring consultants for two different projects. They postponed action on a municipal building consultant until they know the price, and approved a consultant to assist with meeting state Department of Labor regulations.

They also talked about town committees, appointed and elected. Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood gave them the list of candidates on the Nov. 8 local ballot.

Sheldon Goodine has served 62 years on the South China Volunteer Fire Department. (The Town Line file photo)

Municipal Building Committee Chairman Sheldon Goodine presented another revision of the plan for a new storage building to contain the overflow of town records. This plan calls for a room on the south side of the town office, off the meeting room, 12 feet by either 22 or 24 feet.

In July, B. R. Smith Associates, Inc., of Presque Isle, proposed translating committee sketch plans into a formal plan and, if town officials approved, assisting with permitting and overseeing the process of getting construction bids.

Hapgood explained in an email that Keith Whitaker, a consulting engineer with BRSA, designed the new section of the present town office – hence the reach to a northern Maine company.

Selectmen favored the revised plan. They unanimously accepted Hapgood’s recommendation that they ask BRSA for a cost estimate for the company’s proposed services.

Last fall, select board members contracted with Lynn Gilley Martin, of Fire Service Compliancy Associates, to help bring town facilities and departments into compliance with state labor regulations. Now, Hapgood said, China’s three fire departments and China Rescue needed similar assistance.

To work with the fire and rescue chiefs, she recommended another contract with Martin. The consultant told select board members last October that she works with, but not for, the Department of Labor, offering municipalities advice on complying with labor laws and regulations.

Hapgood said for a fee of $1,850 per department, Martin would advise them for a year, including providing each department with a $450 manual with information on training requirements, record-keeping and other necessities. Money would come from the fire departments’ and China Rescue’s reserve funds, she said.

Select board members Blane Casey and Wayne Chadwick and board chairman Ronald Breton asked if the town could save money by treating the four departments as one. Hapgood said her discussions with the chiefs indicated a combination would not work.

Casey asked Goodine his opinion on the issue. Goodine, who said he started his 63rd year as a member of the South China volunteer fire department May 1 (and who celebrates his 86th birthday on Sept. 16) replied that volunteer fire departments all over the country are having trouble getting members, and complex regulations don’t help, but the department will follow the rules.

Board members unanimously approved the contract with Martin.

When they turned to the agenda item titled “How to increase participation to join committees?” Hapgood said the local transfer station and comprehensive plan implementation committees and the Regional School Unit #18 cost sharing committee all need members.

Selectmen started by volunteering themselves for various positions. Then they discussed how the town committees relate to the select board – are they sub-committees, or advisory committees, or something else? – and whether it was a conflict of interest for a select board member to serve on a committee that reported to the select board.

Hapgood’s list of candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot revealed pending vacancies on elected boards, too.

For Planning Board, she said, at-large member James Wilkens is on the ballot; there are no candidates for the District 2 and District 4 seats.

Timothy Basham and Elizabeth Curtis are seeking re-election to the budget committee, and Trishea Story has said she will accept re-election as secretary if she gets the most write-in votes. There is no candidate for the currently vacant District 2 seat.

District 2 is the northeastern part of China. District 4 is the southwestern area.

Any China resident interested in being considered for membership on any town committee is invited to contact the town office.

Hapgood said on Nov. 8, there are three candidates for three seats on the select board, incumbents Blane Casey and Janet Preston plus Brent Chesley.

The only contest on the Nov. 8 local ballot is for one of China’s two positions on the Regional School Unit #18 board of directors. Incumbent Dawn Castner seeks re-election; Wallace Pooler III and Darrell Stevens are also on the ballot, Hapgood said.

In other business, Hapgood said applications for Maine’s new property tax stabilization program are keeping town office staff busier than usual. (See the front page of the Aug. 4 issue of The Town Line for an explanation of this program, aimed at stabilizing property taxes on qualifying senior residents’ homesteads.)

Staff has already received 150 applications from current residents, Hapgood said. Because the program allows homesteads in multiple Maine municipalities to count toward the required 10 years’ residency, town office staff members also need to check former residents’ tax records for information the residents’ current municipalities need.

The next China select board meeting, on Monday, Sept. 26, will be preceded by two public hearings, beginning at 6 p.m. in the town office meeting room. Hapgood said one hearing will be on the local referendum questions for Nov. 8; the other will be the annual hearing on adjustments to the appendices to the general assistance program.

Headstone returned to China Village Cemetery

Installation of Margaret Ayer headstone. Standing, from left to right, Cindy Gagnon, Joyce Wyand, Julie Finley. In the foreground: Shawn Reed and Josh Ross. (photo by Jeanne Marquis)

Many unanswered questions still buried

by Jeanne Marquis

The bell tolled from the church at the head of the lake just as Margaret B. Ayer’s headstone was finally laid back into place again at the China Village Cemetery. Cindy Gagnon, of the Daughters of the American Revolution remarked, “Well did you hear the bell ringing? How appropriate. It says Margaret’s family appreciates she’s back now and they are complete again.”

Cindy Gagnon and Joyce Wyand are both members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and share a passion for cemetery restoration. They were made aware that Margaret B. Ayer’s headstone was in the basement of the L.C. Bates Museum, at the Good-Will Hinckley campus in Fairfield. Gagnon went to the museum on her own to investigate and mentioned that a dark museum basement is not a place you want to be alone. She felt it was a bit unnerving to be among the taxidermy animals, fossils and bones. Yet there, she not only found Margaret’s headstone; she found quite a few mysteries as well.

First off, why had Margaret’s headstone been in the basement of the museum for decades? Who had brought it there? Why was the headstone broken into pieces? Who had tried to repair the headstone. The pieces of the headstone were fitted back together like a puzzle, plastered onto a plywood board for support, and the face of the stone was carefully cleaned to restore its original brightness. These questions still remain a mystery.

The two members of the DAR, Gagnon and Wyand, researched where the headstone belonged and determined Margaret’s final resting place was in the China Village Cemetery, located at 13 Causeway Road. There was an existing small stone on her plot. Her parents, Edward Breck and Roxanna Dean Breck and her brothers, Edward Jr. and Samuel, were also buried in China Village Cemetery.

In her investigation, Gagnon found out that Margaret’s early death at age 41 was one of a long spell of tragic events in her husband’s life at the time. George Washington Ayer, Margaret’s husband, enlisted to fight in the Civil War as a 38-year-old father. He was mustered into the 18th Massachusetts Infantry on October 12, 1861 as a private in Company A.

While on detached service as a waggoneer at 1st Brigade Headquarters, Fifth Corps, he was crushed by a mule at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia. George was treated for his injuries for a five week period and reassigned, due to his condition, as a clerk at First Division, Fifth Corps Headquarters. In the summer of 1864, George contracted typhoid fever while waiting to be mustered out of his three year enlistment, encamped at Arlington Heights, Virginia. George fulfilled his enlistment responsibilities and was discharged in October 1864 with long lasting effects of his illness and injuries. Not long after he returned home, Margaret passed away in August 1,1865, leaving George and three children – Charles, George E. and Mary. No cause of death was listed on her death certificate. George Washington Ayer lived until 1890 and was buried in Oakland.

Gagnon remarked that Margaret had a tough life as well, “Margaret lost her mom when she was 14, her dad when she was 17, and her brother died in the Civil War just before she died.”

Gagnon and Wyan were unable to locate any of Margaret’s living relatives so they contacted Julie Finley, Deputy Clerk of the Town of China to find out the protocol to return the headstone to its rightful placement in the cemetery. Ross and Shawn Reed, Director of Public Services, organized the physical placement of the headstone with assistance of Josh Ross. It was laid flat to the ground due to the condition of the stone and surrounded by crushed stone to hold it in place. A layer of fine sand was used to fill in the cracks of the repaired stone.

While there was no official ceremony, there was a collective feeling of success and quiet jubilation from all who were present at 9 a.m. when the church bell rang because an artifact was returned after a long absence, although we still don’t know why it disappeared. This symbolic act rejoined a family post-mortem with the respect they deserved, and that is something worth celebrating.

We are still looking for living relatives of Margaret B. Ayers to tell them about this story. So look on your family tree and see if her branch belongs to your tree and contact us at The Town Line newspaper.

CORRECTION: The print edition of this story referred to Jason Finley, but the correct name is Josh Ross. This has been updated.

LETTERS: Don’t cut grass, save our environment

To the editor:

There are 142,153,010 residential properties in the United States. Let’s say just 42,000,000 of those properties get the grass cut. [It takes approximately] 1.4 gallons of gas used on average per lawn, per week; 25 weeks of grass cutting. [That comes to] 1.06 billion gallons saved if you stop that ridiculous activity. Then there is the life killed and oxygen-producing leaves being cut. All for image and appearance. Humans are absurd.

Brent Elisens
China

OPINION: A few suggestions about being litter free

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

by Richard Dillenbeck
China resident

Hello…let me share an update on efforts to create a Litter-Free China! Twenty years ago, I started picking up roadside litter on Lakeview Drive. The satisfying undertaking was combined with my habit of long-distance walking. Today I remain puzzled why so many drivers feel the best way to get rid of trash is to throw it out car windows.

Four years ago, an appeal was made for others to join the effort, and, at its peak, some summers over 50 volunteer were involved. That was greatly reduced by COVID and now remains low. Most people live busy lives and one’s enthusiasm is easy to lose when the litter is back within a week. To illustrate a portion of what was picked up this summer, I retrieved over 700 cans and bottles on Lakeview Drive, plus bags of other litter. Efforts were supported by the town manager’s purchase of bags and gloves, also volunteers provided their own. I would place the level of littering to be somewhat less than previous summers but still considerable, which unfortunately means little change in the habits of litterers.

I would like to make three suggestions if you feel this effort is worth continuing:

  • Town office make occasional plea in the town’s weekly newsletter for property owners to please pick up litter on their own roadside frontage. It would certainly help our volunteers and the overall effort.
  • A few years ago, I asked our own China police officer had he ever ticketed anyone for littering, and he said “no”. Perhaps the Kennebec County Sheriff could be requested to do so.
  • Some of the larger pieces of litter may have blown out of trucks enroute to the Transfer Station, although I observe an equal amount on roadside shoulders leading away from the Station. Occasional reminders to the citizenry to tie down/cover transported trash would be helpful.

I want to publicly thank the following persons/organizations for picking up litter:

Mark Jandreau, Ann and Eric Austin, Doug Sukeforth, Jeanne Marquis, Bob Bennett, Katy McCormac, Lori Poulin, Don Matheson, Gary Nichols, Joe Karter, Don Poulin, Sandra Boyce Isaac, Kara Carlson, Don Rice, Jane Golden, Central Church members and Church of LDS members. Also, The Town Line for its support. I suspect there are others who remain either unrecognized or are unknown.

This is being shared with members of the community who serve in official capacities soliciting their support for this effort. Let me close with this memory: when I used to occasionally walk home from Erskine Academy from 1949-1953, our country roads were litter-free. Everyone is invited to be involved in their own helpful way and let’s look forward to next summer.