A meet the candidates session is scheduled at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, at the Albert Church Brown Memorial Library, in China Village, in advance of China’s March 3 special election to fill a vacancy on the Selectboard. Candidates are Christopher Hahn, Janet Preston and Kevin Rhoades.
China Budget Committee members reviewed the town manager’s and selectmen’s recommendations for 2020-21 municipal expenditures at their Jan. 30 meeting. Their discussion again touched on the controversial stipends for volunteer firefighters, and in other areas suggested potential disagreement with the selectmen.
Another question raised Jan. 30 is how warrant articles will be written for the April 4 town meeting. There are two types of articles.
A “capped” article has the amount to be appropriated in the body of the article. In that case, voters cannot increase it; they can approve it or reduce it.
An “open” article begins with “To see what sum of money,” with recommended amounts from the selectmen and budget committee printed below the article. Voters can increase, approve or reduce the amount(s) printed.
Town Manager Dennis Heath said he intends to cap all appropriation articles. Budget Committee Chairman Robert Batteese predicted voters would not like the format and pointed out most articles have been open for years. Heath said he would write open articles if the selectmen direct him to do so.
The firefighters’ stipends are moved out of the fire department budget into the community support agencies budget, with $10,000 recommended for each fire department and for China Rescue.
During a brief review of the proposed fire and rescue appropriation, South China Fire Chief Richard Morse told committee members he believes the line item his department calls “recruitment and retention” rather than “stipends” should be left in the fire department budget. He added that he had asked for $12,000 for 2020-21 because last year he went over budget.
Morse left the meeting before discussion of the community support lines. Budget committee member Tim Basham’s motion to recommend $12,000 for the South China department’s recruitment and retention line was not seconded.
Heath has also moved requests from the China Lake Association and the China Region Lakes Alliance from Tax Increment Finance funding to community support. He said as of Jan. 1 the town no longer does bookkeeping and payroll for the two organizations; like other organizations, they will do their own paperwork and report to him how they spend taxpayers’ money.
A major issue for budget committee members was salaries for Town Clerk Becky Hapgood, Transfer Station Manager Tim Grotton and Public Works Manager Shawn Reed. Heath proposes promoting them from hourly workers to salaried managers, saying that in his administration they are functioning as managers, for example, preparing department budgets and hiring new employees.
When selectmen reviewed the draft budget Jan. 27 (see The Town Line, Jan. 30, p. 3), they proposed equal dollar raises for all three that resulted in somewhat lower salaries than Heath recommended. Budget committee members thought since Hapgood is qualified – and designated, Heath said – to step in as town manager in an emergency, she should be paid more than the other two. They voted unanimously for 10 percent raises for all three, giving Hapgood the highest pay and Grotton, who has been with the town the shortest time, the lowest.
Heath opened the budget committee discussion with a brief review of expected revenues. Since many major items, like road maintenance and town office expenses, are covered by non-tax revenues like grants and fees, he does not expect the municipal budget will need much more from taxpayers next year than this year.
As the Jan. 30 meeting ended, Heath and Batteese recommended the following schedule: a Feb. 10 selectmen’s meeting and a Feb. 12 budget committee meeting for each group to review draft town meeting warrant articles and a Feb. 13 joint meeting to make final decisions. All meetings are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the town office.
China Planning Board members continued discussion of three pending projects near Route 3 at their Jan. 28 meeting. All were discussed at the board’s Dec. 10, 2019, meeting (see The Town Line, Dec. 19, 2019). None was ready for final action at the January meeting.
Jamie Nichols’ application for a self-storage facility on Vassalboro Road just north of the car wash was postponed in December because board members found the application incomplete. On Jan. 28 they found it complete, but the project is complicated by the China Phosphorus Control Ordinance and the need for state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permits.
Codes Officer Bill Butler expects the other two applications, from Sunraise Investments for proposed solar arrays, to be on the board’s Feb.11 agenda. In advance, board members scheduled a Feb. 8 site visit.
The lot Nichols plans to build on is part of a 2002 subdivision that already has filter beds for run-off control, Waterville engineer Al Hodson said. Board member did not know whether the beds have been maintained as scheduled.
Hodsdon had figures showing that as designed, Nichols’ project would not quite meet the requirements of China’s Phosphorus Control Ordinance, adopted in 1993 to protect water quality in China Lake and Three Mile Pond. Nichols’ lot drains into Three Mile Pond.
Board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo said reducing either roof sizes or paved area would fix the problem. Hodsdon said DEP might approve state permits anyway, because measurements have a degree of uncertainty.
Nichols said he owns other self-storage facilities and is moving his main office to South China. He plans two metal buildings, with sections for his own equipment and an office in the larger one. The proposal includes a bathroom and a holding tank.
There will be no hazardous or flammable materials allowed; on-site parking is provided; lighting will be on the buildings with down-facing sconces.
“People are getting very sensitive about light pollution,” Hodsdon commented.
Board members postponed action until DEP staffers act. If they require changes, China planners would need to do another review, Hodsdon said. If enough people show interest in the development, the China board could hold a public hearing before making a decision.
The solar site visit is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, for the property described as the field behind Michael Willette’s gravel pit. Notice of the visit says SunRaise intends to install 17,880 solar panels on about 21.5 acres.
The site walk is considered a planning board meeting and is open to anyone interested. Participants should meet at the pit entrance at the end of Heino Lane. “Heino Lane is accessed off the west side of Windsor Road and is 0.35 miles north of Arnold Road,” the notice says.
Added in capital letters is a warning that the visit will be canceled if there is “significant snow cover” on the site or if the weather is bad Feb. 8.
SunRaise’s second proposed site is farther east on Route 3, on Daniel Ouellette’s property near the South China Wash and Dry and the power line.
Board members and engineer Mark McCluskey talked briefly about plans for Phase Two of the causeway project at the head of China Lake. That topic and the Windsor Road SunRaise proposal are on the agenda for the board’s Tuesday, Feb. 11, meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m., at the town office.
The major decision at an unusually short Feb. 3 China selectmen’s meeting was to buy a new large metal can for waste from the new pre-crusher at the transfer station. Without it, Town Manager Dennis Heath explained, staff would have no replacement under the mixed waste hopper while a filled can is hauled away.
Heath commended Transfer Station Manager Tim Grotton for arranging to sell a can too old to use for enough money to lower the cost of the new one to $8,100. Estimates had ranged from $10,000 to$13,000.
Selectmen voted to take the $8,100 from the $55,000 contingency fund voters granted them for unexpected expenses during the 2019-20 fiscal year. Later, as Heath presented his monthly financial summary, they discovered the contingency fund has less than $4,000 left in it.
They therefore amended their vote and will pay for the new waste can from the equipment reserve fund.
After the meeting, Heath shared a summary of the $51,311 spent from the contingency fund. More than $42,000 went to install three-phase power at the transfer station, primarily to accommodate the pre-crusher. Central Maine Power Company claimed the lion’s share; Windsor electrician Dan Finley was paid for labor and materials.
Heath commented that Grotton reported a welcome increase in the price China gets for one recycled material: cardboard is now worth $100 a ton, up from a negligible amount some months ago.
The Feb. 3 meeting included an executive session to discuss an employment agreement between the selectmen and Heath. Heath reported afterward board members approved a town manager’s job description and asked Heath to submit a draft employment agreement at their next regular meeting (see below).
The next regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Feb. 18, to avoid the Presidents’ Day holiday. Before then, selectmen have scheduled a Monday, Feb. 10, special meeting to review articles for the April 6 town business meeting, and the budget committee will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 12, for the same purpose. All meetings are at 6:30 p.m. in the town office meeting room.
Description of town manager’s responsibilities
This is the position description for the China Town Manager, approved after the executive session of the China Select Board, on February 3, 2020. The draft employment agreement will be presented at the next select board meeting on Tuesday, February 18, 2020. (Monday is Presidents Day).
The Town Manager
This is responsible leadership work as chief executive and chief administrative official of the Town. The Manager is under the direction of the Board of Selectmen. Performance must be in accordance with the Maine Statutes and local ordinances.
Employee of this class is responsible for the achievement of tangible results through people. Work involves a certain degree of urgency to produce and will require firm dealing with people to achieve results. Work involves planning, budget making, problem solving and organizing with the authority to make decisions as well as delegate to others. The work environment is relatively unpredictable and requires the ability to manage many projects at once. Although governed by policies, the Manager must frequently act without precedent.
Essential Duties and Responsibilities: Examples of Work (Illustrative Only):
- Maintains the administrative organization of the Town to ensure efficiency of operation. Oversees the accounting of all monies of the Town.
- Makes monthly reports to Board of Selectmen pertaining to the financial status of the Town. Annually prepares a proposed budget and work program for the Town.
- Prepares an annual report of the previous year’s activities for presentation to the Board of Selectmen and citizens of the Town.
- Appoints, with Board of Selectmen approval, all department heads and supervises their performance on a day-to-day basis.
- Oversees the hiring, evaluating, promoting, and disciplining of employees or establishes procedures for others to follow in such matters.
- Recommends an annual salary schedule for the Town employees for Board of Selectmen consideration.
- Identifies service and policy needs of The Town and brings to the attention of the Board of Selectmen with recommendations for action.
- Maintains a sound public relations posture between the Town and its citizens, the press, and other federal, state and local governmental agencies.
- Coordinates departmental activities, and sets attainable goals for all municipal departments. Act as purchasing agent for all municipal departments, and oversees the bid process on major purchases.
- Maintains contact with public by handling suggestions, complaints and information requests.
- Carries out the directives of the Board of Selectmen.
- Attends meetings of the Board of Selectmen, preparing its agendas, providing supporting documents and information pertinent to agenda items.
- Attends various meetings on behalf of the Town.
- Prepares federal and State grant requests and administers grant programs.
- Enforces municipal and State codes.
- Ex-officio member of numerous municipal committees.
- Performs related work as required.
Requirements of Work:
- Thorough knowledge of municipal management and community problems.
- Thorough understanding of administrative organization, design, and evaluation.
- Thorough knowledge of financial administration and the design of financial accounting and reporting system.
- Thorough knowledge of the theory and practice of public personnel administration.
- Thorough knowledge of municipal government programs and decision-making processes. Working knowledge of State and federal programs.
- Ability to communicate effectively orally and in writing.
- Ability to listen to others.
- Possess conflict resolution skills.
- Ability to direct and supervise others and to delegate.
- Ability to organize and use time effectively.
- Ability to give and accept constructive criticism.
- Knowledge of road maintenance.
- Employee must be goal-minded and possess a self-starting drive to get things done, frequently through other people.
- Employee must be able to react quickly to changing situations which may be physically taxing.
- Employee must be positive and direct in striving to achieve results, but must at times be able to motivate others to act through persuasiveness and the generation of enthusiasm.
- Ability to act independently and without precedent in the face of problems.
Training and Experience Required:
- Graduation from an accredited four-year college or university program in public administration or a related field, and at least five years experience as chief administrative officer in a municipal government; or any equivalent combination of experience and training.
Additional Duty Assignments:
- Tax Collector
- Road Commissioner
- Emergency Preparedness Director
- Agent to Overseers of the Poor
- General Assistance Administrator
- Public Access Officer
- Building Official
- Ex-Officio Member of all Committees/Boards.
Walking into the Swap Shop at the China Transfer Station, you may find that you don’t recognize the place anymore. Gone are the disorganized piles of clothes, toys, tools and odds and ends with no apparent plan or place to stand. Instead, the small space has been arranged with a finesse fine enough to make Macy’s blush. Books line the wall as you walk in, arranged by author. A T-shirt with the message “SHOP ‘TIL YA DROP” is pinned to the far wall. Boxes of men’s and women’s clothes crowd the bottom shelves, neatly labeled by size.
The change that has come over China’s Swap Shop is due to the hard work of one woman who saw an opportunity to make a difference in her community and took it. Her name is Karen Hatch, aka “Queen of the Swap Shop.” She’s a member of the China for a Lifetime Committee, a local group dedicated to exploiting volunteering opportunities in China.
“The first day was quite overwhelming,” Karen confides. “But day by day I got it organized.”
The Swap Shop was built roughly two years ago, according to China Transfer Station Manager Tim Grotton, who says it’s become a popular destination for local residents. “I bet there’s close to a hundred people that go in there on a Saturday,” says Grotton. “I’m amazed how many people use it. It’s pretty astounding.”
I met with Karen on a frosty Friday afternoon, one of the slower days at the transfer station. While we talked, half a dozen people dropped by. We added a box of brand new attachments for a sleep apnea machine, six jars of slightly rusty nails, a steady-light with camera attachment, and a pair of red suspenders. Everything found a place in the newly-organized Swap Shop. “It’s all about merchandizing,” Karen explains as she hangs the suspenders on a hook she had recently installed.
It’s certainly been a learning process for Karen, who retired in December 2019 after serving 27 years as childcare director for the city of Augusta. When she first embarked on this project at the beginning of January, she made the mistake of setting down her mittens. It was only for a minute, but before you could say, “Karen Hatch, Queen of the Swap Shop,” they had been re-appropriated. A few days later, she brought magic markers and masking tape to make signs for the shelves in the little building. She’d only made a few signs before they too magically disappeared! She tells me all of this with a shrug and a smile. If there’s one rule of the Swap Shop you have to remember, it’s that everything is up for grabs.
To the crew at the China Transfer Station, Karen Hatch is a godsend. With the heavy traffic the shop receives, keeping it organized is nearly an impossible task. “We just don’t have that kind of time to dedicate to the building,” says Grotton. “It gets to the point where [donations are] three feet high – with the clothes and stuff – and we got to go in and clean the whole thing right out.”
That has changed since Karen took over. “We haven’t had to touch it in three weeks,” Grotton says, clearly pleased with the change. And Karen is making it easier for Swap Shop visitors to find something useful. “A lot of residents use that place,” continues Grotton, “and she’s cut their time in half because everything is sorted. Everybody used to go in and pick all through the clothes and throw them on the floor. Now, they can go right to their size – it’s fantastic.”
An efficient Swap Shop also saves the town money by diverting more items out of the trash stream. “A lot of the stuff that goes out of that building would go into a landfill,” says Grotton. Especially clothing. “We want to keep all the clothing that we can out of the regular hopper.”
To this end, the China Transfer Station has partnered with Apparel Impact, a “textile recovery company” that operates out of New Hampshire. According to their website, clothing makes up close to 10 percent of all trash in local landfills. They have four donation bins located around central Maine, with one of them here at China Transfer Station.
“Last year, we shipped out 6.2 tons of clothing [through Apparel Impact] that would have gone to the landfill,” Grotton says. But he tells me the Swap Shop puts that number to shame. “I’m guessing four times that amount goes through that building there,” he says, nodding toward the Swap Shop. That’s a lot of clothing that isn’t filling up our landfills.
Organizing the clothing as it comes into the Swap Shop increases its efficiency, but even with her organizational superpowers, Karen is just one lady. She’s at the Swap Shop on most afternoons, but she’s eager to find other volunteers, especially someone to monitor the shop in the mornings. If you’re interested in helping her out, send an email to ChinaforaLifetime@gmail.com.
Considering the Swap Shop’s popularity and money-saving success, Station Manager Grotton hopes to apply for a TIF grant that would allow him to add a few building improvements, including running power to the building. Not only would that allow them to install lights in the building, but visitors could then test items that require power before taking them home.
Whatever the future holds for the Swap Shop, Karen Hatch has found a way to make this little corner of China a more pleasant place to visit. Next time you drop by the transfer station, why not check out the Swap Shop and thank her for all her hard work? Maybe you’ll even find something to take home with you, as they say, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” especially when there’s a woman around to organize it.
Eric W. Austin writes about issues important to central Maine exclusively for The Town Line. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Erskine Academy girls’ basketball team hosted a charity basketball clinic on January 26 with proceeds going to the Maine chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Thirty-five athletes between the ages of 8 and 12 came to the two-hour clinic to not only learn skills, but to also help raise funds for this worthy cause. Coach Bob Witts and several members of the girls’ basketball team worked with the clinic participants to run them through fun drills, teach them skills, and to play a few games.
Over $550 was raised at this event, which will go towards getting wheelchairs and walkers for people as well as helping pay medical bills for those that cannot afford it in Maine with multiple sclerosis (MS).
One of the Erskine basketball players, Mackenzie Roderick, has been personally affected by MS, as her sister, Cassidy, was diagnosed with the disease a year and a half ago, making this cause very special to her and her teammates. Cassidy joined the participants at the clinic, speaking to the kids and parents about how her wheelchair helps her, especially when she needs to walk a great distance or for a long amount of time.
This was a great way to inform the community about MS and its effects on the lives of those who have it. Congratulations to the Erskine Academy girls’ basketball team for holding such an important fundraiser, and thank you to the community for supporting this cause!
Submitted by Jane Golden, VP of HR, JMG Central Office, 65 Stone Street, Augusta, ME 04330.
China Planning Board members are tentatively scheduled to visit the site of one of two proposed solar developments in town Saturday morning, Feb. 8, if the developers are available and the weather cooperates. The site visit is considered a board meeting and is open to the public.
At the Jan. 28 Planning Board meeting, Codes Officer Bill Butler said he expects the solar applications to be on the board’s Feb. 11 meeting agenda. Planners would like to see the proposed site in the field behind Mike Willette’s gravel pit, off Arnold Road near Erskine Academy, which has been described as an open meadow with an area of forested wetlands.
The visit is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Feb. 8, with Butler and the developers to decide where to meet.
All eighth grade students and their parents from the surrounding communities are invited to attend the Erskine Academy 8th Grade Open House on Wednesday, February 26, at 6:30 p.m., in the gym. The administration strongly encourages all incoming freshmen and their parents to attend this event as registration materials will be available and information about the course selection process will be provided. In the case of inclement weather, a snow date of Thursday, February 27th has been set.
Parents who are unable to attend this event are asked to contact the Guidance Office at 445-2964 to request registration materials.
China selectmen made their recommendations on Town Manager Dennis Heath’s proposed 2020-21 municipal budget at a special meeting Jan. 27, so the budget committee could review them Jan. 30. Voters will make final decisions at the annual town business meeting, scheduled for Saturday morning, April 4.
The major change Heath proposed was adding a full-time police officer, which would increase the police and animal control budget from this year’s $91,498 (of which $26,535 is designated as “police wages”) to more than $207,000.
“We can’t afford it,” was Selectman Wayne Chadwick’s immediate response, followed by a motion to leave police wages and related items at the current level.
“We can’t afford it,” was Selectman Wayne Chadwick’s immediate response…
Later, however, selectmen expressed willingness to support a proposal to put the police officer’s salary and related expenses in a separate, extra-budget warrant article with a price tag, so voters could decide on April 4 whether they want the service and are willing to pay for it.
Most other changes in the proposed budget are internal moves or rearrangements of expenditure requests.
For example, Heath proposes making Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood, Transfer Station Manager Tim Grotton and Public Works Manager Shawn Reed salaried rather than paid by the hour, because, he said, they work as managers. He and selectmen agreed on recommended salary levels that would be approximately equivalent to the three percent increase recommended for China’s hourly workers.
The town manager moved requests for money for the China Lake Association, the China Region Lakes Alliance and stipends for volunteer firefighters and rescue personnel into the article funding community support organizations, raising that request considerably while reducing planned use of Tax Increment Finance funds and the fire and rescue budget lines.
Overall, Heath said, if budget committee members and voters agree with the selectmen, the 2020-21 municipal budget will have a minimal effect on the tax rate. The municipal budget includes the annual county taxes; the school budget is separate and was not part of the Jan. 27 discussion.
According to the budget summary for the current fiscal year in the town report for the year ended June 30, 2018, the municipal budget was less than 33 percent of overall spending; the county tax was less than 5 percent; and the school budget was just over 52 percent.
The budget committee meets at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, in the town office meeting room to review the selectmen’s recommendations for 2020-21 spending.
At their Jan 21 meeting, China selectmen, assisted by town attorney Amanda Meader, continued their discussion of conflict of interest as it relates to budget committee members who are also volunteer fire department members. They added an expansion of earlier discussions of reporting requirements for fire departments spending town funds. Neither issue was resolved.
As at the special Jan. 7 meeting (see The Town Line, Jan. 16), board Chairman Ronald Breton insisted that a budget committee member who is also a fire department member, or has a family member in one of China’s three departments, must recuse himself from any discussion of stipends, donations or other individual reimbursement, under whatever name, for firefighters. He named Budget Committee Chairman Robert Batteese and members Kevin Maroon and Tom Rumpf as those affected.
According to China’s Administrative Code of Ethics, no appointed or elected official can take any part in a decision on an item “in which he or she or a member of his or her immediate family has a financial or special interest, other than an interest shared by the public generally.”
Breton challenged Batteese, the only one of the three named budget committee members present, to declare himself in conflict and recuse himself from any committee discussion. Batteese refused, repeating, as he said on Jan. 7, that he has been in both positions for many years.
“I’m much more interested in keeping the taxes down than in the few dollars I get,” he said.
“That’s not gonna happen,” Batteese, a China Village department member, said, because individual stipend amounts are not public information.
Batteese asked whether the selectmen were in conflict when they voted to add to the 2019 town meeting warrant a request to increase their annual stipends, which voters approved. Meader replied that since only selectmen can approve the meeting warrant to be sent to voters, sometimes they must be exempted from conflict of interest rules. The voters make the final decision, she emphasized.
The attorney added that she regrets the whole “difficult conversation,” which in her view is not about local people “honorably serving your community for a few bucks,” but about possible future problems or current issues in the wider world.
Since Batteese declined to state a conflict of interest, Breton made a motion for the selectboard declaring the three budget committee members cannot vote on anything involving funds to individual firefighters, based on state law and China’s Administrative Code of Ethics. Donna Mills-Stevens seconded the motion so it could be discussed.
Breton insisted the issue was conflict of interest, not the money involved, although when Mills-Stevens called the $40,000 proposed for stipends a “very small part” of the total budget, he disagreed.
Breton voted in favor of his motion, Wayne Chadwick voted against it, and Mills-Stevens and Irene Belanger abstained. Breton demanded reasons for the abstentions. Mills-Stevens said she was confused by the emphasis on one budget item; Belanger agreed.
The motion having failed, selectmen turned to other business before returning to a related issue: when fire department treasurers submit quarterly reports on how they’ve spent town money, Breton said stipend recipients’ names should be listed.
“That’s not gonna happen,” Batteese, a China Village department member, said, because individual stipend amounts are not public information.
South China and Weeks Mills fire chiefs Dick Morse and Bill Van Wickler, respectively, also objected. Morse thought his department was filling out the quarterly form as Town Manager and Town Treasurer Dennis Heath requested. For example, he said, the line for vehicle repairs reports a total spent, but not individual amounts for tires or nuts and bolts.
Breton said without names being listed, the town treasurer can be fined, jailed or both for failing to require proper itemization of taxpayers’ money.
Heath, who had been following the meeting via livestream as he continues to recover from a broken ankle, joined on speakerphone. He said that he does not need to know how stipends are calculated or how many hours each recipient puts in, but does need each name and the amount the person received. Because the stipends are an individual benefit from public funds, the treasurer needs a public record, he said.
Breton recommended selectmen, Heath and the three fire chiefs schedule a joint meeting to seek clarification and consensus. No action was taken on the suggestion.
In other business Jan. 21, resident Anita Smith talked about a planned timber harvest in the China School Forest behind China Primary School, to begin in February. Smith and Elaine Philbrook have been overseeing the forest for years.
Smith is working with forester Harold Burnett, of Two Trees Forestry, in Winthrop, and Tyler Reynolds Forest Products, of China. She expects timber sales will bring in less than $4,000.
Proceeds from the last harvest in the late 1990s were set aside in an account for town forest maintenance, grant-matching and related purposes. Smith would like money from the February harvest to go into the same account.
After some confusion over whether she was asking permission or informing selectmen of the next step in an ongoing plan, selectmen unanimously voted approval.
Selectmen appointed Trishea Story as budget committee secretary until the next local elections in November and Sandra Isaac to the China for a Lifetime Committee.
Their next regular meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, Feb. 3. Before then, they were scheduled for a Jan. 27 review of the proposed 2020-2021 budget in advance of a Budget Committee meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30.
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