China selectmen work on warrant; move town meeting date

by Mary Grow

China selectmen continued work on 2021-22 finances and the warrant for the 2021 town business meeting at their Feb. 16 meeting, including moving the town meeting date.

Instead of Tuesday, May 18, the meeting will be Tuesday, June 8, at the same time as voters approve or reject the 2021-22 school budget. Selectmen currently plan a written-ballot vote; they and Town Manager Becky Hapgood are therefore combining expenditure requests and policies to make the warrant as short as they can.

Regional School Unit (RSU) #18 Superintendent Carl Gartley made a preliminary presentation on school finances. He began with charts showing that China’s school is one of the least expensive of 11 in the area, but students score among the top in standardized tests.

China’s school is “one of the cheapest around and getting some of the best results in the area,” he summarized.

Gartley said grants helped cover extra pandemic-related costs. He expects more special funding in the coming year.

The grants could not be used for normal operations, he said, but they did update the bus fleet. The RSU used local funds to accomplish other goals, like catching up with maintenance and promoting energy efficiency.

At this point, Gartley is predicting about a 2.5 percent increase in the 2021-22 school budget, compared to the current year.

Turning to other parts of the budget, Hapgood said she had information from FirstPark Executive Director James Dinkle that the Oakland-based business park intends to charge China about $25,000 for continued membership, payable in December 2021 and May 2022 – and to return about the same amount in revenue in June 2022.

Selectman Wayne Hapgood thought the park should be doing better, considering Maine’s active real estate market. Hapgood said Dinkle expects to sell all remaining lots, given time.

Selectmen decided they need more information before deciding whether to recommend China continue its FirstPark membership.

Board members authorized Hapgood to apply for a 12-week summer intern through the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Southern Maine. Since the intern’s job would be to promote economic development and business investment in China, the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund could pay for him or her.

After a brief discussion of Palermo’s use of China’s transfer station and the amount Palermo pays China, board Chairman Ronald Breton said he and Hapgood will talk with Palermo officials.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 1.

The food service program, also called the nutrition program or the school lunch program, in Regional School Unit (RSU) #18 (to which Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome, and Sidney belong) is in debt, like many other food service programs in Maine schools. RSU Superintendent Carl Gartley gave China selectmen a clear explanation of the problem.

The program is not part of the regular school budget and is supposed to be self-supporting, Gartley said. Federal subsidies are based on assumed efficient programs, and small schools with individual kitchens like those in RSU #18 are not as efficient as the federal program assumes.

For example, Gartley said, RSU #18 has five separate programs, each with two or three employees, for a total of a dozen or more people. The federal formula assumes six or seven people can feed all the RSU students, and pays accordingly.

Gartley emphasized that unpaid meal accounts do not contribute significantly to the deficit.

RSU #18, again like other Maine school units, has been paying down the program debt as much as possible, given other needs.

China committee takes first look at 2021-22 budget

by Mary Grow

China Budget Committee members held their first meeting on the proposed 2021-22 town budget Wednesday evening, Feb. 10. Town Manager Becky Hapgood presented the selectmen’s recommendations, expecting no immediate decisions.

Four topics drew brief discussion.

  • Committee member Elizabeth Curtis queried the request for funds for a building in the China School Forest behind China Primary School. Hapgood replied that proponent Anita Smith foresees using it for year-round programs for children and adults and for storing forest-related equipment and supplies. Smith had given no estimate of the number of people who might use the building.
  • Hapgood summarized the proposal to eliminate the local police force and instead contract for Kennebec County Sheriff’s deputies to cover China 10 hours a week, in addition to the regular patrols. She explained that the part-time officers from other departments who make up China’s local police often lack time to work as many hours as expected.
  • Committee Chairman Robert Batteese asked whether Palermo’s contributions for use of the China transfer station cover costs. Hapgood said selectmen planned to review the contract with Palermo at their Feb. 16 meeting and to talk with Palermo officials.
  • Hapgood said if China repaves the planned five miles of town road in 2021, repaving will be behind schedule. In 2020, she said, six miles of repaving were initially scheduled and four miles were done.

Budget committee members were still waiting for final recommendations from the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee on TIF contributions to the 2021-22 budget, and for bills from Kennebec County and FirstPark, in Oakland. The TIF Committee was scheduled to meet Wednesday evening, Feb. 17.

Committee members decided their next meeting should be to review the selectmen’s warrant for what was then expected to be the May 18 town business meeting, and discussed alternate dates depending on when selectmen put the warrant in final form.

However, selectmen at their Feb. 16 meeting rescheduled the town business meeting from May 18 to Tuesday, June 8, extending deadlines for pre-meeting preparations.

China emergency committee meets to continue update

China’s Emergency Preparedness Committee met virtually the afternoon of Feb. 18 to continue updating China’s Emergency Action Plan, a project started earlier in the month.

Town Clerk Angela Nelson said committee members decided who will be responsible for updating different sections of the plan. They scheduled their next zoom meeting for 1 p.m. Thursday, March 11.

Thurston Park in the winter

Thurston Park in the winter (photo from Thurston Park Facebook page)

This article is a reprint of one that appeared in China’s Connected newsletter.

Thurston Park is open in the winter! All trails are open and accessible by foot or snowmobile. The park is open dawn to dusk, seven days a week. The Yorktown Road is plowed to the top of the hill by the town of Albion. Parking is on the left just before you go down the hill. The rest of the way in may be plowed by one of the abutters. In that case, you can park just before the road heads into the woods on the left side of the road. Please do not park in the road or anywhere to the right as you will be blocking the abutter access.

All trails are open, and the composting toilets are available for use. There is no grooming or clearing of trails during the winter. Trails 1 and 2 have been cleansed of blow downs recently. Snowshoeing, cross country skiing, fat biking, and hiking are all options. Thurston Park is beautiful in the winter and all the waterfalls are currently running. Look out for deer, porcupines, fox, moose, many species of birds, and possibly beavers. Please remember to maintain social-distancing and have your mask available to put on if you meet people on the trail.

Maps are available at the town office or at the kiosk at the entrance to the park. They are also on the town website, http://www.facebook.com/ThurstonPark.

China planners defer to next meeting

by Mary Grow

Three China Planning Board members at the Feb. 9 board meeting spent another hour discussing a proposed solar ordinance and whether additional language about shoreland stabilization should be added to town regulations (see The Town Line, Feb. 4).

At the suggestion of Vice-Chairman Toni Wall, acting as chairman in Randy Downer’s absence, they deferred decisions to the board’s Feb. 23 meeting, when Wall hopes all five members will be able to attend.

The Tuesday, Feb. 23, meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and is likely to be by Zoom again.

China broadband committee reviews three bids for expanded service

by Mary Grow

Members of China’s Broadband Committee (CBC) displayed impressive technological understanding as they reviewed summaries of three bids for expanded and improved broadband service in town at their Feb. 11 meeting.

Tod Detre, not hesitant about answering technical questions, admitted that “my eyes glazed over” as he tried to read some of the legal sections of the bids; but fellow CBC member Jamie Pitney is an attorney and had that aspect covered.

The committee received three bids for the project, from Sertex Broadband Solutions, of Plainfield, Connecticut; Axiom Technologies of Machias, Maine; and Spectrum Community Solutions of Augusta, Maine.

The bid summaries were prepared by Mark van Loan, of Mission Broadband, the committee’s consultant for the bid process. Van Loan and John Dougherty took part in the zoom committee meeting, as did Brent Chesley from China’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee and Ben Topor, from Spectrum, the only bidder represented.

Discussion focused on what questions committee members need answered to help them compare the three bids. Van Loan and committee chairman Robert O’Connor had prepared some in advance, and other members contributed others.

If a proposal is to be submitted to voters at the Tuesday, June 8, town business meeting, committee members need to make a decision, figure out the financial implications and have their proposal reviewed by selectmen and the budget committee by mid-March. The town business meeting had originally been set for May 18, but selectmen voted to postpone it to the later date.

They therefore accepted Van Loan’s offer to send questions out on Feb. 12 with answers requested by Wednesday, Feb. 17. They scheduled a meeting to review additional information for 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 18, and meetings to interview one, two or all three bidders for Monday, Feb. 22, beginning at 5 p.m.

Sertex and Axiom each propose to build a new system from the ground up and to have it become town-owned. Both would oversee a separate construction company. Sertex would also supervise a service provider; Axiom would itself be the service provider.

Spectrum would build on its existing service network in China, including extending service to, by its figures, 120 households not now served. Other sources listed fewer expansions needed.

Detre said repeatedly his number one goal is to extend broadband service to everyone in town. No one argued. Committee members also discussed other services, like cable television, and how they would be provided by each bidder.

2021 China Four Seasons Club fishing derby winners

Lunker of the day: Jeremy Ross, largemouth bass, 6 lbs. 6 oz.

Brown trout: 1. Kylie Caruso, 2 lbs., 13 oz.; 2. Jacob Martin, 2 lbs. 11 oz.

Brook trout: 1. Betsy Discharden, 1 lb. 6 oz.; 2. Owen Robeshauge, 1 lb. 4.5 oz.; 3. Shawn Tibbetts, 1 lb. 3 oz.

Chain pickerel: 1. Nathan Wright, 4 lbs. 7 oz.; 2. Greg Candelmo (no weight available); 3. Aaron Sousa, 4 lbs.

Largemouth bass: 1. Jeremy Ross, 6 lbs. 6 oz.; 2. Brian Garret, 5 lbs. 2 oz.; 3. Olivia Hutchinson, 4 lbs. 15 oz.

Perch: Children 15 and under division: by count: 1. Maryanna Dregier, with 34; 2. Blake Owens, 27; Charles Shapel, 10; Logan Jahosworth, 4; Baily Clonier, 3.

China Four Seasons Club ice fishing derby enjoyed by many

Jeremy Ross shows his prize winning 6 lbs., 6 oz. largemouth bass, as the Lunker of the Day.

by Sandra Isaac

The China Four Seasons Club and The China Village Fire Department held their 2nd annual China Lake Ice Fishing Derby on Sunday, February 14. The event was well attended with the entire group spread out over China Lake, where the fishing for the derby was limited. “It was great to see so many families and children involved with this year’s derby,” said Tom Rumpf, President of the China Four Seasons Club. The largest fish was caught by Jeremy Ross. The largemouth bass weighed 6 pounds, 6 ounces, winning both the largemouth fishing division and the “Lunker of the Day” award. The derby concluded with a fireworks display set off by Central Maine Pyrotechnics at the north end of the lake.

Olivia Hutchinson displays her third place winning largemouth bass.

Maryanna Dregier took first prize in the children 15 and under category, catching 34 perch.

China neighborhood donates to school

In an effort to enrich and support their local community, the Greater Neck Road Neighborhood Association recently donated to the China Middle School’s new shower facilities in the athletic locker room. Funds and various personal hygiene items were collected and presented to School Nurse Bonnie Newcombe, left, by Marie Michaud, who is one of the board members of this tax exempt community building group. (Contributed photo)

South China’s Fieldstone Quickstop under new ownership

The Fieldstone Quickstop in South China. (photo from Google streetview)

Maritime Energy buys convenience store from long-time owner Thad Barber

by Eric W. Austin

The Fieldstone Quickstop in South China, at the intersection of Routes 32 and 3, located at 190 Route 3, has recently been sold to Maritime Energy.

Thadius Barber, a resident of China for all but four of his 48 years, purchased the establishment from Mike Rocque in 2004. It was just the right time for a sale, he explained in an email.

“I owned [and] operated the store for almost 17 years. [I’m] mostly going to miss our amazing customers and the best employee family I could ask for,” said Barber. “Thank you, town of China. Thanks to my wife, Darlene, and my four amazing children.”

What’s next for Barber? “Gonna lay low for a while or until life gets back to normal,” he said. “I will describe it as a temporary retirement.”

The new owners, Maritime Energy, with the main office headquartered in Rockland, is a local Maine company with five offices and 12 other convenience store locations across Midcoast Maine. “We generally try to have stores in the same area as our energy offices,” explained Charon Curtis, Vice President of store operations for the company, in a phone interview. One of their energy offices is a short distance east from the Fieldstone Quickstop, on Route 3.

Curtis said they are not planning big changes for the location. Gasoline sold at the pumps will still be branded Sunoco, and they will continue to sell Amsoil products. The Dunkin’s coffee counter will also remain. The Subway sandwich shop, which closed in December of 2020, will not return, but Maritime plans to offer their own selection of pizza and sandwiches.

“We have our own Lighthouse Delis,” said Curtis, “and Terry Haskell, the store manager there, is a very good chef and she is putting her finesse on our sandwiches. We did not keep the Subway franchise, but we’re basically doing all that Subway offered and more.”