OPINIONS: A “yes” vote urged on broadband ARPA warrant article

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

by Bob O’Connor
China Broadband Committee

The China Broadband Committee was formed in 2017 to find a way to bring the best Broadband internet solution to China. Last year we chose Axiom Fiber to build that system. The selectboard and townspeople voted down our proposal last November because of the risk that it could potentially adversely affect property taxes due to repayment of the $6 million bond if not enough townspeople signed up for this service.

As a committee, we went back to the drawing board to look at all possible solutions again. We reviewed proposals from our incumbent providers, Spectrum Charter, and Consolidated Communications. We found the Spectrum bulk proposal too financially risky for the town. Consolidated was not interested in expanding into China because we are in “Classic” China Telephone territory. The company might consider expansion in the distant future, seven or more years from now.

Unitel, of Unity, Maine, has been in the telephone business since 1904, about the same time that the China Telephone Company got its start. Unitel first offered fiber internet to the home in a limited area starting in 2015. Late last year, Unitel was acquired by Direct Communications, a larger family-owned company that offers fiber to the home in a few rural areas in a few US states.

Our broadband committee started working with Direct Communications (DC) shortly after they acquired Unitel last year. Unitel/DC are looking to expand to towns around Unity with the help of the current grants and funds. These grant funds can be spent to cover areas of our town that the Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA) defines as “Least Served” and “Unserved”. This includes about 25 percent of homes in China that typically have DSL or no service.

MCA now classifies the rest of town as “Underserved”, meaning that their service does not meet the minimum speed of 100/100 Mbps. This includes those with cable service from Spectrum. All new internet projects funded by MCA must be built to the minimum 100/100Mbps standard.

Our currently proposed project with Unitel/DC is to build a fiber backbone in town that is strong enough, that is, has enough fibers, to serve the whole town while initially serving the Least Served and Unserved areas. After this project is complete, Unitel/DC will continue to expand to the rest of the town, the underserved folks.

Town funding from this project is from the TIF fund of $30,000/year for 10 years for a total of $300,000. This expenditure was previously approved by the voters in 2021. Also, we are requesting $70,000. from a part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that China has received.

Unitel/DC will match our $370,000 contribution to the project.

We are also applying for an MCA “Connect the Ready” grant for about $460,000. The total project is approximately $1.2 million dollars with the Town contributing 31 percent, Unitel/DC contributing 31 percent and the MCA grant covering the remaining 38 percent of the project.

We will only apply for this grant if the townspeople vote in favor of the $70,000 ARPA fund distribution on the Warrant Article on November 8, 2022.

The town selectboard unanimously (5/0) recommended a “yes” vote on this $70,000 Broadband ARPA Warrant article. The Budget committee also recommended a “yes” vote (5/1).

Neither the TIF nor the ARPA funds will raise property taxes, and Unitel/DC would fully own and operate this service with no requirement for involvement from town staff.

Fiber internet service by Unitel / Direct Communications will improve internet speeds and reliability, increase value of your home, encourage economic development in town, allow for online learning, education, work, telehealth, and entertainment at an affordable and competitive price.

We appreciate your support. Thank you.

Read more about China’s broadband initiatives here.

China Historical Society to meet

Location of the China Historical Society, next to the China town office and above The Town Line.

by Bob Bennett

The China Historical Society will be meeting on Saturday, October 29, at 10 a.m., in the portable building at the China Town Office. At their September get-together, it was decided that they definitely need to continue and move forward while attempting to recruit new members and build greater interest in China’s unique and valuable history among residents and visitors of all ages and backgrounds. While there will be no set agenda, there will likely be discussion of the society’s bylaws, its tax exempt status, collections and any other topics and/or questions that come up.

September’s meeting was, for me, a true eye-opener as far as the knowledge of, and interest in, our town’s past as reflected in the comments of the attendees. Hopefully this “excitement” will be continued and we will welcome a larger turnout at the upcoming meeting. I hope to see many of you there.

A view from above

Barbara Frost at the top of the China Baptist Church steeple. (contributed photo)

CHINA, ME — From her camp, from her boat, and as she walked around China Village, Barbara Frost saw the China Baptist Church and the steeple. Barbara got acquainted with some of the church members and volunteered to do some work around the church (she called it ‘puttering’ around). In her ‘puttering’ she cleaned, painted, repaired and completed many much needed projects.

One day, talking to Pastor Ron [Morrell], she expressed a desire to climb into the steeple, knowing what a great view there would be from the bell tower.

He agreed, but admitted he’d have to find a younger person to accompany her.

Recently, she got her wish as Brad Bickford and Dale Peabody joined her in her climb.

The trustees have installed a webcam in the steeple and Brad is working on getting it online on the churches website. This will give folks from away a chance to see what’s happening on China Lake year round.

A little history….In 1993 the steeple began to tilt and had to be removed and repaired. The church started a ‘Steeple People’ project and with lots of fundraising (bike race around China Lake, auctions, dinners, etc.) had the steeple and bell back up in just a few months.

China workshop aims to bring area towns together

Volunteers prepare window inserts at a previous WindowDressers workshop, in Vassalboro. (photo courtesy of Vassalboro Historical Society)

by Eric W. Austin

CHINA, ME — Planned for the second week in November starting just after Election Day, the China Window Dressers workshop is moving full steam ahead. The intent of the workshop is to build low-cost window inserts to reduce heating expenses for homeowners in central Maine. The organizers have spent the past year taking orders and visiting local homeowners to measure the windows requiring inserts, and now they are looking for volunteers to help at the upcoming workshop.

Sponsored by the China for a Lifetime Committee, a local group dedicated to philanthropic activities meant to improve the quality of life for China residents, and assisted by other local organizations, the initiative is modeled after the classic “barn-raising” community efforts of the past, with residents working together for the benefit of everyone.

Committee chairman Christopher Hahn describes it this way: “The workshop is a great chance for the community to come together and help one another during these tough financial times. Such events don’t happen as often as they should anymore in this age of Facebook and online Zoom meetings, so we jumped at the opportunity to organize this workshop. It fits right in with our mission of ‘neighbors helping neighbors.’ I hope to see many familiar faces and hopefully some new ones.”

The committee has received more than 130 orders for window inserts from over two dozen local clients across central Maine. Although the workshop will take place at the China Conference Center, orders have been open from any of the area towns and volunteers for the upcoming build workshop do not need to have ordered inserts or live in China. The workshop will run from Wednesday, November 9, through Sunday, November 13. Work shifts are divided into a morning shift from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., and an afternoon shift from 1 – 5 p.m. Food will be provided by community volunteers between shifts. The first two days are devoted to putting together the wooden frames for the window inserts, while the next two days will be for wrapping those frames in plastic and foam. Sunday will serve as an overflow day if everything cannot be completed by Saturday evening.

No experience is necessary to help out, and there are still plenty of spots that need to be filled. Hahn says they are aiming for eight people per shift. The work is not complicated, and designed to flow through an assembly line process, making it easy for anyone to participate. Participants from earlier workshops will be on hand to answer any questions and provide guidance for volunteers.

For those interested in signing up to participate in the workshop, there are several ways to get involved. The easiest way is to visit the Window Dressers website at windowdressers.org. Click on “Community Builds” link on the menu at the top-right of the page, then scroll down to the China build and click where it says “Sign up to volunteer”. (Click here to go there directly.) That will take you to a page where you can choose which time-slot best fits into your schedule.

If you’re not tech-savvy, or don’t have internet access, you can also send an email to ChinaforaLifetime@gmail.com or call the China town office at 445-2014 and let them know what days you are available to help.

More information about the China for a Lifetime committee can be found on their website at chinaforalifetime.com.

CHINA: Voters to decide local and state elections

by Mary Grow

China voters have local elections on Nov. 8, as well as the state elections. There are several contests for state offices; on the local ballot, there are more vacancies (which can be filled by writing in a name) than contests.

The state contest is topped by the race for District 1 representative to the United States Congress, between Democratic incumbent Chellie Pingree, of North Haven, and Republican challenger Edwin Thelander, of Bristol. There is also a line for a voter to write in a third person.

This ballot calls for ranked choice voting. Voters are asked to fill in an oval under the “1st Choice” column for their preferred candidate; they may fill in an oval under the “2nd Choice” column and, if they added a name, the “3rd Choice” column.

The reverse side of the state ballot is not ranked-choice. Voters are asked to mark the oval beside only one candidate’s name for each office.

Contests on this ballot are as follows. Names are listed in alphabetical order for each position; there is a line for a write-in candidate for each office.

  • For governor, Independent Sam Hunkler, from Beals; Republican Paul LePage, from Edgecomb; and incumbent Democrat Janet T. Mills, from Farmington.
  • For District #15 state senator, Republican incumbent Matthew Gary Pouliot, of Augusta; and Democrat Storme June St. Valle, also of Augusta.
  • For District #62 state representative, Independent Lindsey D. Harwath, of China; Republican Katrina J. Smith, of Palermo; and Democrat Pamela J. Swift, also of Palermo. The winner will succeed Republican Timothy Theriault, of China, who was term-limited.
  • For Kennebec County Register of Deeds, Republican Matthew James Boucher, of Oakland; and incumbent Democrat C. Diane Wilson, of Litchfield.

Three current office-holders are unopposed for re-election: Kathleen Grant Ayers, Democrat of West Gardiner, for Kennebec County Register of Probate; Democrat Thomas F. Doore, of Augusta, for Kennebec County treasurer; and Democrat Maeghan Maloney, of Augusta, for District #4 (Kennebec and Somerset counties) district attorney.

China’s local ballot includes candidates for four offices: select board, planning board, budget committee and member of the Regional School Unit #18 board. Select board, planning board and budget committee members serve two-year terms. RSU #18 board members serve three years.

China’s Nov. 8 voting will be in the portable building behind the town office. Polling hours will be 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Vehicle entrance will be from Alder Park Road only; the driveway onto Lakeview Drive will be blocked off.

The China town office will be closed Nov. 8 so that staff can be at the polls.

This ballot is not ranked choice. There are spaces for a write-in for each position.

Select board members and the RSU delegate are elected from anywhere in town. The planning board and budget committee have at-large members plus representatives from four districts. District Two (northeast) and District #4 (southwest) positions are to be filled this year, and also the planning board at-large position and the budget committee secretary and at-large position.

  • For select board, there are three names on the ballot for three positions: incumbent Blane C. Casey, Brent A. Chesley and incumbent Janet M. Preston. The third board member whose term ended this year, Ronald Breton, is not running.
  • For planning board, there is one name on the ballot, incumbent James Wilkens for the at-large position. District #2 member Toni Wall said she will accept re-election if enough voters write in her name. District #4 member Scott Rollins said he will not accept re-election; he has too many other demands on his time.
  • For the budget committee, District #4 member Timothy Basham and at-large member Elizabeth Curtis are unopposed for re-election. Secretary Trishea Story said she will serve again if enough writers write in her name. There is no candidate for the District #2 seat; Thomas Rumpf’s term is ending.
  • Three candidates seek to represent China on the RSU board: incumbent Dawn M. Castner; Wallace R. Pooler, III; and Darrell A. Stevens. China’s other representative, whose term ends in 2024, is T. James Bachinski.

CHINA: Six referendum questions on ballot deal with ARPA funds

by Mary Grow

At the polls on Nov. 8, China voters will express their opinions on state elections, including choice of town representatives to the state legislature; local elections for select board, planning board, budget committee and Regional School Unit #18 director; and eight local referendum questions.

Six of the referenda ask approval to spend federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for specified projects. Two are proposed amendments to town ordinances.

With one exception, members of the town select board and budget committee recommended unanimously that voters approve all proposed expenditures.

The exception is the first question, asking for $70,000 in ARPA funds to help create a privately-owned fiberoptic broadband system that would initially extend broadband service to parts of China that are unserved or underserved.

China Broadband Committee (CBC) members have repeatedly discussed expanding and improving service and have explored various approaches. The current plan would add the $70,000 to $300,000 from the Tax Increment Financing Fund (TIF) for the town’s share of a privately-owned and privately-run broadband service, comparable to and competitive with Spectrum and other providers serving China residents.

China voters already approved a schedule of TIF expenditures that includes $30,000 a year for 10 years for broadband.

The remaining cost of the expansion and improvements would be paid by Direct Communications, of Idaho, and its Unity-based subsidiary, UniTel, who would own and operate the service, and by a state grant aimed at extending broadband service to unserved and underserved areas.

Select board members unanimously recommend approval of the funding, even though some have opposed past CBC recommendations. When the budget committee reviewed the question, after a brief discussion five members voted to recommend the expenditure and Michael Sullivan voted against recommending it.

The other question that generated discussion on the select board and the budget committee is No. 5 on the ballot, the request for no more than $75,000 in ARPA money for a new, one-year, senior fuel assistance program. Select board member Wayne Chadwick suggested the program as he looked at high prices residents are likely to face to keep warm this winter.

Discussion was not over the merits of the program, but over how it would work. Select board members adopted a set of standards, found on the town website, chine.govoffice.com, under the elections tab, with the title “Senior Citizens Fuel Support Fund.”

The questions that have generated little or no discussion during board and committee meetings ask voters to approve the following ARPA expenditures.

  • No more than $21,590, to reimburse China Rescue for an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).
  • No more than $7,000 for improvements to the radio tower at the town office complex on Lakeview Drive.
  • No more than $22,000 to buy three heat pumps, for the town office and at the transfer station office building and the scale shack.
  • No more than $30,000 to repair cemetery fences.

The first proposed ordinance change is an amendment to China’s Quorum Ordinance. The ordinance currently says that every town meeting, regular or special, requires having a quorum assembled before business can begin. The quorum consists of “four percent of the residents registered to vote as of the first business day of January in the year in which the meeting is held.”

This requirement has translated to between 120 and 130 voters in recent past years, before town officials changed to a written ballot in 2020 because the covid pandemic led to a ban on large gatherings.

At the Aug. 22 select board meeting, Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood proposed changing the requirement to 100 registered voters.

She explained that Maine law now automatically registers as a voter anyone who applies for a state driver’s license. Consequently, she said, China adds a handful of new voters almost every week, with no indication that any of them intend to vote; and therefore the quorum requirement steadily increases.

Three select board members recommend voters approve the change. Chadwick and board chairman Ronald Breton think 100 voters too few.

The second proposed ordinance change is a series of amendments to two sections of China’s Land Use Ordinance, recommended by planning board members after long discussion. Many are required to bring China’s ordinance into conformity with state regulations.

Copies of the Land Use Ordinance amendments are on the website, under two left-hand tabs: Elections, above the fuel assistance fund standards, and the separate tab titled “**Ordinance Updates – Public Comments**.”

The long-discussed new ordinance that would govern future commercial solar development in China is not on the Nov. 8 ballot, as planning board members have not yet agreed on a final version.

China selectmen get glowing report from school super

by Mary Grow

Regional School Unit #18 Superintendent Carl Gartley (a China resident) and China’s representatives to the RSU #18 board talked with select board members at the Oct. 11 select board meeting.

The new school year is going well, Gartley reported. RSU officials are making progress on three goals: improving attendance, strengthening students’ math and reading skills and involving parents. The number of AP (Advanced Placement, or college-level) courses has increased, giving graduates who attend two-year or four-year colleges a head start – and cost savings.

Despite the national teacher shortage, RSU #18 started the school year with no vacant positions, Gartley said – perhaps the only central Maine district to do so.

“The facilities look great,” he said. Plans for next year include new siding for China Middle School.

Gartley told select board chairman Ronald Breton that when he planned the current year’s school budget a year ago, he budgeted for substantial cost increases, for example in fuel. He also makes as many long-term arrangements as he can, to minimize unexpected year-to-year changes.

RSU board member Jamie Bachinski said the three children who came to the meeting with him were his reason for serving on the board. He commended Gartley and the rest of the administration for “doing an excellent job.”

RSU board member Dawn Castner, who is a candidate for re-election Nov. 8, said after enjoying teaching for five decades, board service keeps her involved in education from a different perspective.

RSU #18 includes Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney. The administrative office is in Oakland.

Later in the meeting, Brent Chesley withdrew as a China member of the RSU #18 Cost Share Committee, because he is unable to attend the first scheduled meeting. Select board members unanimously appointed Dennis Campbellton in his place, joining Breton and Castner.

Gartley explained that a five-town, 15-member committee is created every five years to review the formula that divides the local share of RSU costs among the towns. The current formula is based 75 percent on each town’s property valuation and 25 percent on its student population, he said.

During the public comment period near the end of the meeting, Campbellton asked if public comment could be moved to the beginning of the meeting, so that audience members could speak before select board members made decisions. Board member Wayne Chadwick said if an audience member asks to be recognized at any point in discussion, the board chair normally obliges. Chesley, one of three candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot for three select board seats, agreed.

In other business Oct. 11, Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood reported “a great head start” in response to the amnesty program for residents who made changes on their properties without required town permits (see The Town Line, Sept. 29, p. 3). Many people are appreciative and want to become compliant, she said. She plans to meet with town attorney Amanda Meader to discuss known offenders who do not come forward.

The codes officer has a list of “major issues,” she said, and as the assessor’s quarterly reviews proceed, more unpermitted changes are likely to be reported.

Hapgood shared photos of digital signs she and South China fire chief Richard Morse looked at as they planned to buy a new sign for the South China fire station. She recommended, and select board members unanimously approved, the least expensive one, sold by Neokraft Signs Inc., of Lewiston, for $22,938, plus the cost of an electrical connection to the fire house.

After the meeting, Hapgood said the price might change slightly, depending on the final design. At the June annual town business meeting, China voters approved spending up to $33,000 in federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money for the sign.

Hapgood reported that after extensive review, attorney Meader concluded that the shore frontage in front of The Landing restaurant at the head of China Lake’s east basin does not belong to the town and is part of The Landing property. Ownership has been unknown since the State of Maine relocated Route 202 in 1972.

Select board members agreed unanimously to settle the issue by starting to bill the company owning the restaurant for property taxes on the area.

The manager reported that Lynn Martin, the consultant from Fire Safety Compliance Associates working with the town, had useful talks with town fire and rescue officials. Transfer station and public works staff need to continue to work with Martin, she said. Select board members unanimously approved using $2,800 in contingency funds to extend their two contracts another year.

Hapgood shared with board members another summary report from the digital speed monitoring sign, this time from locations on Deer Hill Road. Average vehicle speeds were consistently above the posted 25 mile-an-hour limit.

The next regular China select board meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, Oct. 24. The agenda will probably include discussion with Delta Ambulance representatives of their planned request for town financial support beginning in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

China seventh and eighth graders hold car wash for veterans, first responders

The seventh and eighth grade social studies students at China Middle School recently hosted a free car wash for first responders and local veterans in our communities in recognition of those service organizations who lost so many lives on September 11, 2001. (contributed photo)

LETTERS: Swift a proven listener

To the editor:

We have vital issues ahead in the 131st legislative session. We need Pam Swift MD with her decades of experience in women’s healthcare and agriculture for Representative in District 62. She is passionate about Health policy, Agricultural policy and Environmental policy. She sees these three areas as inextricably intertwined.

Swift supports health insurance coverage for all, reducing the cost of prescription medications, protecting women’s bodily autonomy, and preventing/treating opioid addiction. She has seen these issues firsthand in her medical practice. Swift is focused on supporting our small family farms, and dealing with PFAS, or forever chemicals. As Swift says, “whatever we do to the planet, we do to ourselves.” She has real-world concerns because she raises livestock on her small farm.

She has proven she can listen to constituents and work across party lines in her two terms on selectboard in Palermo. Please vote for Pam Swift, MD.

Jeanne Marquis
China

China planners postpone action on “solventless hashlab” application

by Mary Grow

A bare quorum of the China Planning Board took no action at the Sept. 27 meeting.

There was one application on the agenda, from Bryan Mason, to change the use of a shipping container at his 1144 Route 3 property. Mason wrote that he intended to use it as a “solventless Hashlab.”

He was not at the board meeting, and acting board chairman Toni Wall declined to act in his absence.

There is useful information on the web about solventless hashlabs, Wall said; but she thought Mason should be present to answer questions about his specific plans.

Codes officer Nicholas French reported briefly on the select board’s amnesty for projects done without a required permit (see the Sept. 29 issue of The Town Line, p. 3). He said he needs to complete only three more courses to become a fully certified Maine Code Enforcement Officer.

Board members did not act on the minutes of the previous meeting, because only two of the three had read them.

They did not schedule their next meeting. Due to the Oct. 10 Indigenous People’s holiday, the select board has preempted the usual second Tuesday planning board meeting night; the select board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11. A second meeting room is available, but China’s LiveStream program cannot broadcast two simultaneous meetings.

After post-meeting discussion, planning board members decided their next meeting will be Tuesday evening, Oct. 25.