Erskine Academy to host new student orientation

All incoming freshmen or new students and their parents are invited to attend the Erskine Academy New Student Orientation on Monday, August 28, at 6:30 p.m., in the gym. The administration strongly encourages all new students to attend this event as it is an opportunity to become further acquainted with the faculty, facilities, and programs at Erskine. The first day of school for freshmen only will be Tuesday, August 29.

China selectmen approve 15.9 mil tax rate; hear school spending proposal

by Mary Grow

China selectmen have unanimously approved a 2017-18 tax rate of 15.9 mils, or $15.90 for each $1,000 of valuation, an increase of 40 cents per $1,000 over last year’s rate.

Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said at the board’s Aug. 21 meeting the main reason for the increase is lower state funding for education, requiring local property owners to make up the difference. Also, he said, the homestead exemption for primary residences goes up from $15,000 to $20,000, saving a little money for homeowners but adding to taxes on businesses and seasonal homes.

Selectmen heard a presentation on school spending plans from new Regional School Unit (RSU) #18 Superintendent Carl Gartley, one of three preliminary discussions of Nov. 7 local ballot items.

RSU #18 proposes seeking approval from voters in its member towns (Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Smithfield) for a $14 million bond issue for repairs and updates to several school buildings plus a new athletic complex for Messalonskee High School.

Gartley, a former Erskine Academy teacher and China Middle School principal, shared a table showing that more than $2.4 million of the total amount borrowed would go to China schools, mostly for improvements to the older middle school.

If the bond issue is approved and the work is done, he said, the long-discussed possibility of closing the middle school and enlarging China Primary School would be put off for at least another 20 years.

China Middle School is the second most costly project on Gartley’s list, exceeded only by the $2.8 million earmarked for Oakland’s Williams Elementary School.

Selectman Ronald Breton objected to the bond issue, especially to the plan to include $3 million for the new athletic complex which, he said, very few China students would use.

“My responsibility is this town,” Breton said, urging that the $3 million be made a separate proposal. He added when one of the RSU #18 directors so moved at a board meeting, at Breton’s instigation, the board voted 9 to1 against the proposal.

Gartley fears if the two issues are separated, voters will reject both. He disagreed that China gains less from RSU membership than the other towns; the town has gained academically, in terms of district financial support for building renovations and especially in special education, he said.

He remembered when he was a principal in China searching for appropriate placements for special education students – Erskine Academy, a private school, is not obliged to accept them – and sometimes finding only an expensive alternative that required long bus rides for the student. Now, he said, any RSU #18 student can attend Messalonskee High School.

The second possible Nov. 7 ballot question, to be discussed again at the next selectmen’s meeting, is Board Chairman Neil Farrington’s proposed question that, if approved, would require all nonprofit agencies asking for town funds to provide a financial statement demonstrating their need for the money.

Selectmen considered whether a ballot question is necessary, since a financial statement requirement has been an off-again, on-again policy, and whether information about past spending or future spending plans would be more useful.

A third question likely to be on the ballot is a request, probably for up to $8,000, to create a fire pond on Neck Road, partly on Tom Michaud’s land and partly on an adjoining lot. Michaud said he and China Village Fire Chief Tim Theriault have discussed plans, and selectmen said the other landowner does not object.

Selectmen asked L’Heureux to draft both questions for discussion at their next meeting. They have until mid-September to get local ballot questions in final form.

In other business, L’Heureux reported the state Department of Economic and Community Development approved China’s request to amend its Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program. The changes, supported by voters at the March town business meeting, add the new Central Maine Power Company substation off Route 3 to the TIF base and extend the program from 20 years to 30 years.

Selectmen unanimously approved former board member Robert MacFarland’s plan to replace the supporting beams under the former Weeks Mills schoolhouse. MacFarland estimates the cost for the repairs plus adding a handicapped-access ramp to the back of the building at $9,100. L’Heureux recommended payment from the bicentennial fund and the selectmen’s contingency fund.

The board unanimously authorized TIF Committee member Frank Soares to apply for a state grant to enlarge the boat launch at the head of China Lake’s east basin. The committee is also seeking engineers’ plans for a new causeway bridge just west of the boat landing, Michaud said.

Michaud said the next TIF Committee meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, Aug. 28. Selectmen rescheduled their next meeting, which would fall on the Labor Day holiday, to 8 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6.

 

CHINA NEWS: Codes officer should have stopped events until permits were issued

by Mary Grow

The China Board of Appeals, on a split vote, decided Aug. 17 that Codes Officer Paul Mitnik should have required Parris and Catherine Varney to stop hosting gatherings in their Neck Road barn until they get a town permit.

The decision was supported by board members Virginia Davis, Lisa Kane, Anthony Pileggi and Dale Worster. Michael Gee dissented. Chairman Spencer Aitel abstained, as he habitually does when his vote is not needed to break a tie. Robert Fischer was absent.

The motion the majority approved found that the barn, which is attached to the Varneys’ house, was formerly used for agricultural storage. When the prior owner renovated the building and put in plumbing and two bathrooms with the goal of making apartments, he changed the structure to commercial. The Varneys need a permit to continue commercial use.

The appeal asking Mitnik to shut down the gatherings until a permit is approved was filed by the Greater Neck Road Neighborhood Association, represented at the Aug. 17 hearing by Sheri Wilkens. Town Attorney Alton Stevens assisted with Mitnik’s presentation.

Davis’s earlier motion stating that the barn was a commercial structure that under China’s land use ordinance requires a permit was defeated, supported only by Davis and Pileggi. Kane and Worster did not explain why they rejected one motion and accepted the other.

Davis insisted the barn was a commercial structure and suggested the Varneys were attempting to evade the local ordinance. Gee, on the other hand, believed the appellants had failed to prove public or commercial use.

“I don’t think they [the Varneys] are doing anything wrong, in the strictest sense,” he said.

For Worster, a main issue was not commercial versus private, but the testimony of several neighbors that noise from the events bothers them. Aitel pointed out that the board of appeals was not asked to rule on the noise issue; it was raised by audience members, not by the appellants.

In September 2016, the Varneys applied to the China Planning Board for a conditional use permit to use the barn as a commercial venue for weddings and similar events. Neighbors, including the Wilkens, opposed the permit, citing concerns about noise, alcohol consumption, environmental effects from the proposed parking area, traffic on the narrow road and other issues.

In October 2016 the planning board rejected the permit because, a majority ruled, the Varneys did not meet the requirement that they avoid “a significant detrimental effect on the use and peaceful enjoyment of abutting property as a result of noise, vibrations, fumes, odor, dust, glare or other cause.” The major focus was on noise.

The Varneys then asked the board of appeals to overrule the planning board. In December 2016 the board of appeals unanimously sent the issue back to the planning board with instructions to support its decision with written findings of fact, especially in relation to the noise issue, about which there was contradictory evidence. Before the planning board could act, a group of neighbors, including the Wilkens, filed an appeal in Superior Court claiming the board of appeals had acted improperly. The court has not yet rendered a judgment.

Meanwhile, this spring and summer the Varneys have hosted various events in their barn, including a retirement party for four Vassalboro Community School teachers and a birthday party. The Neighborhood Association appeal claimed these events should not have been held without a permit.

Mitnik said he had not acted because he believed the events were private parties, not commercial or public events, and no town permit was needed. The barn has been used for occasional private parties for 10 or 15 years, he said, so continuing them is not a change of use. Commercial use would be a change, requiring planning board approval.

He defined the situation as “just a neighborhood dispute. It has nothing to do with codes enforcement.”

Attorney Stevens, on Mitnik’s behalf, pointed out that under the definitions in China’s ordinance, a commercial structure is a building intended for commercial use, and a commercial use must be intended to produce revenue and must actually produce revenue. Perhaps the Varneys would like to make money from the use of the barn, but neither the appellants nor anyone else presented evidence they had done so, he said.

Therefore, he said, there is no commercial use, no commercial structure and no change of use for which a permit would be required.

Neck Road resident Kathy Cioppa said she organized the Vassalboro retirement party, and the Varneys got no money for hosting it. Attendees were asked to contribute, she said, but the money went to the caterer and to buy gifts for the retirees, not to the Varneys.

Another issue discussed was whether the Varneys needed a permit from the state fire marshal and whether the lack of one raised safety concerns. Mitnik and Stevens said the state fire code is a totally different regulation which most local codes officers, including Mitnik, are not trained and licensed to enforce.

After the decision, Aitel said the Varneys can appeal to Superior Court. Stevens had earlier said an appeal would probably not be heard. Because the codes officer has what he called “prosecutorial discretion” about enforcement, he said the court would probably interpret the board of appeals action as advisory and would not rule on it.

About 50 residents, not all from the Neck Road, crowded into the China town office meeting room for the hearing.

Knizeske, Hollander receive LakeSmart designation

The China Lake Association is proud to announce that Justine Knizeske and Alan Hollander have been awarded the LakeSmart Award for their lake front property on China Lake. Instead of mowing, they have left the land facing the lake natural with only a lovely set of wooden steps leading to the shore front. This natural buffer is more than 200 feet deep and helps to protect China Lake from pollutants. If you would like a LakeSmart visit from an experienced volunteer, contact us at chinalakesmart@gmail.com. We can provide ideas for you to protect the lake.

Former China fire chief remembered

by Dale Worster

Former China Fire Chief George Studley

It is with greatest of regrets and the heaviest of hearts, the China Village Volunteer Fire Department honors the memory of our good friend and former Chief of 35 years – George Studley.

While it can be a challenge to find the right words to convey how much someone will be missed, no matter what I put in print today, I am going to fall terribly short on conveying what George meant to the China Village Volunteer Fire Department. Joining the China Village Department in 1967 and becoming chief in 1977. George led by example, by working the problem and simply getting things done. Whether it was showing a “newbie” to the department – how to run equipment or if he was trudging fire hose through deep snow to save a home, he was a glowing example of what each of us are losing, each time one more of ‘The Greatest Generation’ slips away.

Over the 50 years George responded to fires, car accidents, rescue calls, community events, etc…. he truly was and still is the heart and soul of the China Village Fire Department. I can’t imagine how someone might try and account for all of the lives he touched in those 50 years, unselfishly giving thousands & thousands of hours of his time to the people and families in our community. In his 70s George was still quick to reply to a fire tone/page and also, very frequently, the first on-scene.

I can say with all honesty that George was one of those very few folks that you meet and not only instantly liked, but simply enjoyed being around. He had a witty way of stating his opinion on many things and was kind to those who didn’t necessarily share his point of view. If you weren’t close, he was a courteous person with his opinion and respected yours. If you were a friend, he had his own unique and thoughtful way of courteously conveying how wrong you were. I was always pleased to have chance meetings with people who knew George – whether I had on a China Fire T-shirt or someone saw my plate, it was always a pleasure when someone would say – “Oh, You must know George!,” and friendly smirk would appear on their face. I might reply with a grin: “Yes, unfortunately – I do.” and our laugher would last a short while.

Often, we would follow-up with short stories of George and how we knew him. At a recent car accident, another firefighter was sharing how he had come up onto a fire scene years earlier and he was trying to make out a blurry image showing from the fading smoke – – it was George, walking out of the smoke, wearing only his shorts and fire boots. I can’t think of a better analogy to describe George’s ability to answer the call while also, maintaining the unique style of Mr. George Studley.

While I don’t have the long history that most in China had with George, nor the amount of stories that many folks hold in their memories and hearts, in the six years I knew him, I’m thankful to have had the privilege to know him and to call him friend. As word spreads of this unfortunate news, I encourage everyone to share their stories of George, because in them, we all get to have George in our lives a while longer, even if he won’t be there to laugh along with us. I do have faith that George and Sheldon, (his best friend of many, many years who passed recently) are once again, sharing their morning coffee and catching up on who’s doing what in town and discussing what they’ll be doing together, this upcoming weekend.

Please, join me in spirit and in the memory of George, as the CVVFD must again, ring the bell three times – which in the fire service, signifies the end of a shift and George’s completion of duties with the China Village Volunteer Fire Department.

In closing, I wish that I was somehow able to really convey to everyone, what George meant to me in the short time I knew him and how very much I’m going to miss him. I think the best I can do, is to say with all honesty: I couldn’t be more pleased or proud, if my own grandson grew up to be just like George Studley.

The Firefighter’s Prayer
– Author Unknown –

When I am called to duty, God,
wherever flames may rage,
give me strength to save a life,
whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child
before it is too late,
or save an older person from
the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert,
and hear the weakest shout,
quickly and efficiently
to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling,
to give the best in me,
to guard my friend and neighbor,
and protect his property.
And if according to Your will
I must answer death’s call,
bless with your protecting hand,
my children, my wife, one and all.

A celebration of George’s life will be held at the China Conference Center, 283 Neck Rd., China, on Sunday, August 27, beginning at 1 p.m. Memorial donations may be made to the China Village Volunteer Fire Dept., PO Box 6035, China Village, ME 04926.

China selectmen, firefighters discuss auditing requirements

by Mary Grow

China selectmen and representatives of the South China Volunteer Fire Department spent part for the Aug. 7 selectmen’s meeting sorting out auditing requirements, with specific reference to the importance of the transition from one fiscal year to the next. China’s fiscal year ends June 30 and the new one – 2017-18 currently – begins July 1.

Fire Department Treasurer Fred Glidden told selectmen he presented several invoices dated in June for payment after July 1 and was told they could not be paid. They were 2016-17 bills and according to auditing practice, that year’s books are closed and cannot be reopened, and prior-year bills can’t be paid from current-year funds.

Had the department ended FY 2016-17 with a surplus that went into its reserve fund, the bills might have been paid from reserve in July, Town Manager and Treasurer Daniel L’Heureux said; but there was not an adequate balance carried forward.

Glidden said he already paid two of the bills from departmental funds, raised through donations and fundraisers, and intended to bill the town for reimbursement in this fiscal year. Fine, L’Heureux said, as long as the bill to the town is itemized.

For the remaining bills, the manager recommended getting new invoices dated in July. They would then fall under the current year’s budget.

When Glidden and Fire Chief Richard Morse objected that they had carried bills forward in past years, L’Heureux said sometimes there are such irregularities, until the town’s auditor spots them and requires correction.

In a related matter, Glidden said LD 150, sponsored by State Representative and China Village Fire Chief Tim Theriault, takes effect Nov. 1 (90 days after the state legislature adjourned for the year). LD 150 repeals the $1,000 limit on the municipal appropriation that can be given to an organized volunteer fire department in a lump sum and adds a requirement that the purposes of the appropriation be itemized.

In other words, after Nov. 1 this year, and at the beginning of subsequent fiscal years, China’s three volunteer fire departments can request a check for their annual appropriation and do their own spending, instead of submitting bills bi-weekly to the town office.

Neil Farrington, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, advised Glidden and Morse to make sure if they choose that option, they will continue to share the town’s discount on purchases like diesel fuel and heating oil. Selectmen asked L’Heureux to investigate the question.

In other business, L’Heureux said he hopes to be able to recommend the 2017-18 tax rate at the selectmen’s Aug. 21 meeting. He is waiting to hear whether the state will approve China’s application to add the new Central Maine Power Company substation off Route 3 to the town’s Tax Increment Financing Program. Whether the value of the new substation is in the TIF program or the regular tax base will affect the rate he recommends.

Selectmen reaffirmed their intention to offer the basement of the old town house beside the town office for rent to a nonprofit group. They authorized L’Heureux to do necessary repairs and maintenance.

L’Heureux said the Thurston Park II Committee did not endorse the proposal for selective timber cutting on an additional approximately five acres in the town-owned park, so only the work originally planned will be done.

L’Heureux and Farrington repeated their request for volunteers for the vacant budget committee position, the 2018 Bicentennial committee and other town boards and committees.

Davidson family receives LakeSmart designation

The Davidson family

The descendants of the Davidson Family have enjoyed a camp on China Lake for five generations. Their property was purchased in the early 1900s from the original settler, Rufus Jones. Like many properties on China Lake, theirs slopes toward the lake. On the lakeside of their property they maintain a thick lawn at least three inches or more tall that has other natural vegetation growing. They have chosen to only cut that lawn once or twice a year to help protect the lake.

Also, because they have a dog, they make sure to pick up all the pet waste so it will not affect the lake quality. At the lake’s edge, their effective buffer is full of tall trees, native shrubs, ground cover and leaves and pine needles. With the entire buffer, they still enjoy a nice view of the lake.

If you would like a free LakeSmart visit from a volunteer to see what you can do to protect the lake, please contact Marie Michaud at ChinaLakeSmart@gmail.com or 207-2020240.

South China Library aided from exhibit of late Howard Comfort II

Some of the paintings in the gallery.

Martha Comfort, David Kesel, and Laura Coffin, descendants of Howard Comfort II.

Photos & text courtesy of Geoff Hargadon

A barn in South China was the setting for an artist’s retrospective on August 12. The late Howard Comfort II, scholar, cricketeer, painter, and a part of the South China community for decades, was the subject of an exhibition of his paintings. Over 30 paintings, many from South China and elsewhere in Maine, were borrowed from a number of families as far away as Charlotte and Seattle. Nearly 100 visitors enjoyed refreshments as they passed through the gallery on that Saturday evening, including several of Comfort’s descendants.

Comfort lived to the age of 89, and spent many summers with family and friends in South China. His father was a colleague of Rufus Jones while at Haverford College, and it is believed Jones was influential in what has become a five-generation legacy in the town. There were many paintings buildings in South China on view, including Spearon’s General Store and the South China Inn, two buildings that no longer exist.

The exhibit doubled as a fundraiser for the South China Library and its plans to move to Jones Road. Over $2,500 was raised from attendees, with help from a matching grant offered for the occasion.

“We were very pleased with the turnout, to meet new friends, and to see old acquaintances. I am particularly glad we could share this beautiful body of work with the community that could probably appreciate it the most,” said Geoff Hargadon, organizer of the event. “We have long admired Howard Comfort’s work and was excited to be able to see so much of it in one place. But this has also encouraged me to investigate other opportunities in the future that could connect us with South China’s history through the eyes of others.”

Residents visit the gallery.

CHINA NEWS: Erskine announces schedules, bus routes for Fall 2017

Fall 2017

Erskine Academy schedules and bus routes:

FRESHMEN ORIENTATION will be held on August 28, at 6:30 p.m., in the Erskine Academy gymnasium. Parents and freshmen students are encouraged to attend.

Freshmen parents are reminded that the school does require a current freshmen entrance physical prior to the first day of school. Any questions please call the school nurse at 445-2962.

Tuesday, August 29, – First day of school – Freshmen only;
Wednesday, August 30, – all students will attend;
Friday, September 1, – Erskine will not hold classes;
Monday, September 4, – Labor Day Holiday – no classes;
Thursday, September 14, – school picture day.

NEW STAFF MEMBERS: Megan Childs – Family & Consumer Economics teacher; Katherine Newcombe – English teacher & Ed Tech III; Rebecca Sellers – art teacher.

BUS ROUTES:

Students should be at their pick-up points 5 – 10 minutes before the stated pick-up times for the first few days of school. Bus fare is $10 per week. Parents of freshmen are advised to check the bus schedule at New Student Orientation.

Pat Vigue – Bus 13 (Palermo Area)

6:25 – Palermo School
6:30 – Turner Ridge Road
6:35 – Banton Road
6:40 – Level Hill Road
6:45 – North Palermo Road
7:00 – Weston Ridge
7:15 – Tobey’s
7:20 – Frontier Village
7:25 – Leave Frontier Village
7:30 – Arrive at Erskine Academy

Sheila Wescott – Bus 11 (Chelsea/Windsor Area)

6:12 – Leave Erskine to Tyler Road
6:17 – Weeks Mills Road
6:20 – Legion Park Road/

Lamson Road (turn-a-round)

6:23 – Barton Road
6:25 – 105 to Spring Road
6:50 – Chelsea School
6:53 – Wellman Road
6:55 – Route 17 to Windsor
7:00 – Hunts Meadow Road
7:10 – Route 126
7:15 – Vigue Road
7:20 – Route 17 to Route 32 Windsor
7:25 – Route 32 (Rideout’s Store)
7:35 – Arrive at Erskine Academy

Wayne Lacey – Bus 1 (Whitefield-Jefferson Area)

6:25 – Leave Country Corners Store
6:30 – Travel down Route 215
6:35 – Route 126 to Jefferson
6:40 – Jefferson Post Office
7:00 – Intersection of Route 32 & 17
7:10 – Intersection of Route 17 & 206
7:20 – Intersection of Route 105 & 32
7:23 – Choate Road
7:25 – Windsor Neck Road/South Road
7:30 – Kidder Road
7:30 – Arrive at Erskine Academy

Janice Cook – Bus 16 (Windsor/Whitefield/Coopers Mills Area)

6:18 – Leave Erskine- Rte 32 South
6:26 – Maxcy’s Mills Rd
6:28 – Griffin Road
6:33 – Vigue Road
6:37 – Townhouse Road
6:44 – 218N/194N
6:46 – Heath Road
6:50 – Hilton Road
6:52 – 218N //Mills Road
6:59 – Coopers Mills Main Street
7:00 – Windsor Road/Coopers Mills
7:02 – Erskine Road
7:04 – Wingood Road
7:08 – Erskine Road
7:09 – Windsor Road/Coopers Mills
7:15 – Route 105 to Rte 32
7:18 – Route 32 to Erskine Academy
7:30 – Arrive at Erskine Academy

Routes, drivers and bus numbers subject to change

Kostrons receive LakeSmart recognition

Ron and Sandra Kostron, of China, are awarded the LakeSmart Award for their undeveloped lot on China Lake. They have owned the property for 18 years and have kept it completely natural. The shoreline is composed of rocks along with vegetation covering the entire length of the shore. There are five layers of buffer on the property including duff (leaves and pine needles left on the ground), ground cover, shrubs, understory (young trees) and canopy (mature trees). All the plants are native. Native plants have a better chance to survive especially during times of extreme weather. For more information about the LakeSmart Program go to the China Lake Association website or contact chinalakesmart@gmail.com.