CHINA NEWS: Three local issues on town June ballot

by Mary Grow

China voters will have a three-issue town ballot on June 13, in addition to ratifying or rejecting the Regional School Unit #18 budget for 2017-18 and voting on state questions. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the former portable classroom behind the town office on Lakeview Drive. Voters in the five RSU 18 towns will approve next year’s school budget at the annual district budget meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, May 18, at Messalonskee High School in Oakland.

Public hearings on China’s three local questions are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 15, before that evening’s selectmen’s meeting.

On June 13, voters will decide by written ballot whether to:

  • Approve an “Ordinance Prohibiting Retail Marijuana Establishments and Retail Marijuana Social Clubs in the Town of China”;
  • Appropriate up to $25,000 from the Unrestricted/Unassigned Fund Balance (surplus) to buy and install a septic system and well for the portable classroom, referred to in this article as the Emergency Preparedness Shelter; and
  • Authorize selectmen to buy a two-acre lot on Alder Park Road adjoining land already town-owned and appropriate $12,000 from surplus for the purchase.

The four budget committee members attending an April 26 meeting unanimously supported both proposed expenditures.

The plan for the well and septic system includes two further steps if voters approve the $25,000: installing a bathroom in the building and connecting the well to the town office. Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux recommends funding the bathroom and town office connection from town office maintenance money. The current town office well provides minimally drinkable water, because it is affected by the pile of salted sand that stood uncovered behind the town office for many years.

The lot proposed for purchase is east of the lot on the corner of Alder Park Road and Lakeview Drive that the town bought several years ago, south of the lot on which the town office complex stands and west of part of the 6.2 acre lot voters approved buying in November 2016. L’Heureux said he is working to get an accurate map and clear title on the November purchase.

At an April 27 special selectboard meeting, selectmen unanimously authorized L’Heureux to sign an agreement on the Alder Park Road lot conditional on voter approval of money to buy it.

The marijuana ordinance was again a subject of debate at the April 27 selectmen’s meeting. It was put on the June 13 warrant without a selectmen’s recommendation to voters and with board member Joann Austin voting against presenting it.

Austin called putting the question on the ballot a mistake. She believes that retail marijuana establishments open new possibilities for local businesspeople, and that keeping marijuana illegal only increases its attractiveness to young people.

Other board members fear marijuana businesses would be dominated by large out-of-state operations with the profits going out of state. They pointed out that approving the ordinance would neither affect medical marijuana operations nor forbid individuals to grow small amounts for personal use.

A copy of the proposed ordinance is on the China town website under Election Information.

In other business April 27, Board Chairman Neil Farrington announced the recent state award to China’s transfer station staff, which will be more fully publicized, and announced that May 7 through 13 is Maine Composting Week.

Board members talked again about plans for stipends for China’s emergency services volunteers. Voters at the March town meeting approved up to $40,000 for the purpose, with a distribution plan to be worked out by the services and town officials. Federal regulations defining when a person is an independent contractor versus an employee are complicating discussions.

Since the April meetings, L’Heureux learned that the property for sale at the north end of China Lake, mentioned by Tax Increment Financing Committee member Dale Worster at the April 24 TIF Committee meeting (see The Town Line, April 27, p. 3), is the house and lot immediately west of Church Park. L’Heureux has informed TIF Committee members.

China transfer station receives excellence award

China transfer station employees, from left to right, Kevin Rhoades, Mary Kay Tisdale, manager Tim Grotton, holding the award, and Ed Brownell.
Contributed photo

The Town of China was awarded the Maine Recycling and Solid Waste Most Improved Program award in 2010. Since then the town has continued to strive for excellence.

China and Palermo have recently agreed to share the use of the China transfer station and the transition has been extremely successful. Many positive comments from Palermo residents have commended the staff’s high commitment to excellence in the pursuit of stellar service to all the residents served.

The inter-local initiative has benefited both municipalities through cost management and capacity building while recognizing the state’s hierarchy in solid waste disposal.

China’s personnel were an integral stakeholder in the conversations on how to make the transition a successful one. An innovative and dynamic group of determined workers provide outstanding service for residents of China and Palermo.

China has also expanded its composting program from 0-lbs of composting before 2012 to over 34-35 tons of composted materials today (weighed when leaving the transfer station and received by those who use the composted materials.)

Their daily contributions to solid waste management processes, environmental concerns, safety in operations, and economically sound solid waste management practices are honorable and appreciated and worth recognition.

The Town of China was presented with the MRRA’s 2017 Recycling and Solid Waste Continuing Excellence Award.

CHINA NEWS: TIF group to ask for RFP to replace Causeway bridge

by Mary Grow

China’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee members plan to ask China selectmen to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for replacing the current Causeway Street bridge at the head of China Lake’s east basin, once they decide what the RFP should say.

At their April 24 meeting, committee members started by trying to specify measurements and materials. They moved toward a more general statement of goals, with the intention of leaving specifics to the selected contractor.
Currently proposed goals include a bridge that is high-quality and safe; enough wider than the present one to allow fishing plus a handicapped-accessible walkway on one or both sides; and enough higher to allow canoes and kayaks to go under it.

Committee member Dale Worster volunteered to draft an RFP for review at the next committee meeting, scheduled for Monday evening, May 8.

Committee members made two other decisions:

  • Rather than scheduling a formal public hearing or public information session on plans for the head of the lake, they will ask Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux to publicize the May 8 meeting as an opportunity for interested residents to get information.
  • After May 8, they will reduce their meetings from every two weeks to once a month, except when business requires additional meetings.

L’Heureux emailed committee members that acquisition of the Bailey lot where people using the boat landing just east of the bridge usually park has been delayed by an unexpected mortgage on the property. He expects the issue to be resolved soon, Selectman and committee member Joann Austin said.

There was consensus that if selectmen issue the RFP promptly and get prompt replies, work will still not start in the summer, because state permits are needed to work near the water and, committee member H. David Cotta said, state officials are likely to forbid work until the lake level is drawn down in the fall.

Since the bridge work will use up a good part of the $750,000 voters at the March town meeting approved for the next three years, committee members disagreed on whether they should go ahead with other plans for the head of the lake or with additional TIF projects.

They briefly discussed three other land acquisitions, one proposed by selectmen for voters’ action on June 13 and two entirely speculative.

Selectmen have added an article to the June 13 local ballot asking voters to appropriate $12,000 from surplus (Unrestricted/Unassigned Fund Balance) to buy a lot on Alder Park Road between two other town-owned parcels. Although TIF funds are not involved, committee members weighed in on the issue, asking what the town would do with the land if acquired and wondering why the lot already has a Sale Pending sign.

Two other suggestions briefly discussed were acquiring land adjacent to the Four Seasons Club beach off Lakeview Drive opposite the town office to provide more parking and better lake access (Austin’s idea) and acquiring land at the north end of the lake west of the causeway for a town beach there (Worster’s idea).

Jim Wilkens and Bob MacFarland said China’s Lake Access Committee should look for a town beach and request TIF money if needed. Ronald Breton and Worster said the Lake Access Committee is inactive.

Worster said he met one of the homeowners in the area he is interested in. He reported that he took several other initiatives, including talking with representatives of Reny’s department stores about the FairPoint building on Route 3; talking with local contractor Robin Tobey about adding gravel at the boat landing parking lot (once the town owns the property); learning from the state Department of Transportation that the type of guardrail at the head of the lake is a town decision, because Causeway Street is a town road; and getting cost estimates for imitation granite benches that could be installed near the causeway.

CHINA NEWS: Two local questions on China ballot in June

by Mary Grow

China voters will have at least two local ballot questions on June 13.

The exact wording remains to be decided, but at the April 17 selectmen’s meeting board members voted to present two questions, asking voters if they want to:

  • Prohibit growing marijuana for retail sale, selling marijuana for non-medical purposes or running a marijuana social club – the three main items state voters, but not a majority of China voters, approved in November 2016 – within town boundaries;
  • Appropriate money from the Undesignated Fund Balance (surplus) to install a septic system and a well to serve the portable classroom behind the town office, with the well to supply the office also. Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux will suggest an amount, after some research, and will call a meeting of the Budget Committee to get its recommendation on the proposed expenditure.

Selectmen scheduled a short special meeting for 8 a.m. Thursday, April 27, to review and approve final wording of the ballot questions.

The decision to put the first question to voters was made on a 3-2 vote, with Joann Austin and Jeffrey LaVerdiere opposed. Austin sees a local marijuana industry as economic development and a source of new tax revenue. LaVerdiere, while opposing large out-of-state operations, said, “We’re an agricultural town. I don’t see why we should outlaw growing anything.”

Austin also argued that before asking China voters to act, selectmen should see what regulations the state develops. Board member Irene Belanger said other town managers have expressed similar opinions. But, Belanger said before she voted to put the question on the ballot, “We’re a family-oriented community” and should not send a message that drug use is okay.

Ronald Breton proposed both questions and voted in favor of putting both to voters. Board Chairman Neil Farrington considered it appropriate to “give voters an opportunity to decide whether they want marijuana in their neighborhood.”

Board members were unanimous in presenting the proposed appropriation. Adding running water is a step toward readying the building for potential use as an emergency shelter. It is already used for voting and occasional meetings.

The other major topic at the April 17 meeting was a presentation by retired teachers Anita Smith and Elaine Philbrook on the China School Forest. Using about 50 acres of the 75-acre property the town bought in 1984 for the new primary school, ball fields and other education-related purposes, forest supporters are celebrating the 20th year after its 1997 designation as a Maine Outstanding Tree Farm.

The forest belongs to the town, not the school department, and is open to residents of all ages for walking, bird-watching and similar activities. It also serves as a classroom and a source of natural resources, Philbrook and Smith said.

Forest Field Day will be held Friday, May 26, rain or shine, with a variety of activities for China elementary students and the public. On Saturday, Oct. 14, Maine Project Learning Tree, the state division of the international environmental educational organization, will hold its 40th anniversary celebration in China’s forest.

Selectmen commended Philbrook and Smith for their many hours of volunteer work in and for the school forest.

In other business April 17, Four Seasons Club President Frank Soares described the club’s changed plan to use its $50,000 appropriation from China’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) program. Some of the proposed trail work was done at no charge by Coutts Brothers, Inc., so the club plans to improve additional trail mileage and to divert $5,000 to replace the dock at its swimming beach, Soares said.

Selectman Breton questioned the legality of adding dock replacement to a TIF project authorized by town voters. L’Heureux will check out the issue.

Club contractors and volunteers use state guidelines for multi-use trails, Soares said; trails are available for walking and horseback riding as well as use by four-wheelers and snowmobiles. He said the club has state approval to take out a beaver dam on Hunter Brook that has flooded a trail section.

China fire and rescue chiefs submitted a preliminary proposal for distributing the $44,000 voters approved at the March town meeting for stipends for volunteer firefighters and rescue personnel. More discussion is scheduled for May, after each department has discussed the plan.

Breton and Farrington, who received the proposal the morning of April 17, said there was also agreement that at least one selectman will attend each quarterly joint meeting of the emergency services, as a liaison between the selectboard and the services.

Selectmen appointed the following committee members:

  • Christopher Hahn to the China for a Lifetime Committee;
  • Lindsey Harwath to the Thurston Park II Committee;
  • Belanger and Breton as China’s representatives on the Regional School Unit #18 cost-sharing committee; and
  • Farrington, Tod Detre, Robert O’Connor and Raymond Robert to the Broadband Committee.

Ice Out on China Lake

“A trip around China Lake Sunday evening, April 16, indicated large areas of floating ice in the middle and north end of the lake on the China side and in the Vassalboro basin.

Monday morning, with the lake flat calm, the sun was reflecting from the open water, a very pretty sight.

There was some ice in the coves in the Vassalboro basin and a little ice south of the narrows on the China side, but the lake was virtually clear of ice at that time.

It is the decision of the judge that ice out for 2017 occurred on China Lake on Monday, April 17.”

The judge’s decision is final.

For his accurate guess of April 17, Jason Fleming, of China, is this year’s winner of The Town Line’s ice out contest.

Local scout troop conducts food drive

Local Scout Troop 479 collected over $480 in canned and dry food, and over $450 in cash donations over the Friday and Saturday before Easter.

 

Madison Bodine, right, reconnected with his former kindergarten teacher Ann Austin, during the food drive he helped spearhead for the China Food Pantry.

Boy Scout Troop #479, of China, did some good this past Good Friday and collected food and donations to support the local China Food Pantry.

Led by Scoutmaster Scott Adams, with committee member Priscilla Adams, Assistant Scoutmasters Matt and Madison Bodine, and scouts Nick Shelton, Tucker Leonard and Misha Littlefield, the team prepared ahead of time by creating a fundraising flyer and posting a notice for volunteers on the troop’s Facebook page. Then early Friday morning the good Samaritans set out on their mission of Easter love.

They worked tirelessly all day Friday and most of Saturday, collecting over $580 in food and $451 in cash donations!

“It was very rewarding to support the China community in this way,” said Madison Bodine, “and it was nice to reconnect with Mrs. Austin, my former kindergarten teacher.”

Ann Austin, who has run the food pantry for more than 25 years with her late husband, Lee, was blown away by the generosity.

“Such a pleasant surprise!” she said. “There’s a lot of need this time of year for something most of us take for granted. Madison and his scout troop have changed a lot of lives this Easter season!”

The China Community Food Pantry is located at 1320 Lakeview Drive in China Village, and is open Friday and Saturday, noon – 1 p.m. For more information, or to donate, please call 968-2421, or email Ann Austin at lee.ljaustin@gmail.com.

Erskine seeks host families for international students

CHINA – The administrators of Erskine Academy, in China, invite those interested in hosting an international student in their home for the 2017-18 school year to an informational session to be held on Thursday, May 11, at 6 p.m., in the Erskine Academy Library. The program needs host families from the Erskine Academy service area of China, Vassalboro, Windsor, Augusta, Whitefield and Palermo. Attendees will learn more about the international student program, the host family experience, monthly compensation, and how to become a home stay placement for next school year. All are welcome to attend. For more information, please contact Assistant Headmaster John Clark at jclark@erskine247.com.

CHINA NEWS: TIF group asks who will supervise expenditures

by Mary Grow

CHINA — China TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee members spent their April 10 meeting discussing who should supervise expenditures approved at the March 25 town meeting and what additional projects the committee should consider.

Since the TIF Committee is an advisory body, members thought they should not implement programs. However, several said, the groups that do implement programs should keep the committee, and town selectmen, informed, especially if projects change.

The largest appropriation from TIF funds was up to $750,000 over three years for the causeway project at the head of China Lake. After a long discussion, committee members agreed the first step is an RFI (Request for Information) to selected engineering firms asking for proposed design and build plans. Committee members Frank Soares and Stephen Nichols will write the RFI. The revolving loan fund for businesses, for which voters authorized up to $25,000, should be the selectmen’s responsibility, committee members said. The Kennebec Valley Council of Governments is slated to administer the program, under town guidance.

The $20,000 appropriated for the Alewife Restoration Initiative and the $40,000 for Thurston Park should be spent by the respective groups heading the projects, ARI and the Thurston Park II Committee.

Soares, who is president of the Four Seasons Club, said a small part of the $50,000 previously appropriated to the club for trail work is being reallocated to rebuild the dock at the swimming beach off Lakeview Drive opposite the town office. Volunteer work took care of some of the planned trail expansion, he said, freeing up money to extend trail improvements and for the dock. Other potential TIF Committee projects include public access to China Lake, a community center, senior housing and expansion of access to broadband internet service. China’s Lake Access Committee has been inactive since voters rejected its proposal to buy the former Candlewood property. Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux mentioned two other properties that might be available in the future; Soares said the Four Seasons Club would consider leasing its beach to the town..

Committee member Dale Worster said he preferred to develop the public beach where it would be best for the town, not where property is available. His initial idea of buying a large parcel in South China village including the present boat landing was not supported. He now proposed seeking willing sellers of land at the north end of the lake, west of the causeway, either including or adjoining Church Park.

Committee member Robert MacFarland reminded the group that China owns a small parcel off Lakeview Drive, opposite the end of the road that used to connect Lakeview Drive and Hanson Road at the Bog Road intersection. He was authorized to look into clarifying the extent of the town’s property there.

Suggestions for a potential community center included the former Fairpoint building on Route 3 and the present China Middle School, if the school department is able to consolidate China’s elementary education in an enlarged China Primary School. Neither property is likely to be available soon. Senior housing would require transportation, committee member Amy Gartley suggested. Committee member and Selectman Irene Belanger said residents responding to a recent survey were not enthusiastic about taxpayer-funded transportation.

L’Heureux said the newly-formed Broadband Committee is looking into expansion of internet service. Worster recommended expansions feature buried cable, which he said is much easier to maintain than overhead cable.

The meeting ended after a moment of silence in memory of the late Albert Althenn.

CHINA NEWS: Board holds preliminary talks on health insurance

by Mary Grow

CHINA — China selectmen spent the first hour of their April 3 meeting talking about town employees’ health insurance, with several employees and other residents listening and asking questions. No decision was made; board members emphasized the discussion was preliminary.

Susan Smith, of the Maine Municipal Employees Health Trust (MMEHT), summarized various plans her group offers, working with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and an administrator called Group Dynamic of Falmouth.

Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux invited Smith in response to a request from selectmen to look into saving money on health insurance. Smith explained the concept of health reimbursement accounts, which allow a town to offer a lower-cost plan and repay employees for increased out-of-pocket expenses.

She offered a variety of different plans, and many of the questions opened up still other options. Employees and selectmen needed time to review the choices. Smith is likely to be invited back for a discussion with employees and perhaps another public meeting with selectmen.

After Smith left, board member Jeffrey LaVerdiere asked about talking with representatives of insurance companies other than Anthem, and former Selectman Robert MacFarland asked if town officials had looked into self-insuring.

In other business April 3, L’Heureux said China is looking for one budget committee member and additional members for the China for a Lifetime Committee. The latter is exploring ways to make China more welcoming for people of all ages, including services to help older residents stay in their homes.

Selectman Ronald Breton reported on the significant increase in the draft RSU (Regional School Unit) #18 budget for 2017-18. (ep)

China Village resident Margo Allen attempted to clear up what she saw as conflicting information given at the March 25 town business meeting, when a voter asked whether the appropriation for the causeway project at the head of China Lake included replacing the bridge. One selectman promptly said no; two others said yes. The disagreement continued, with modifications, at the selectmen’s meeting; it appears that the $750,000 voters approved could include the bridge, perhaps with supplemental funds or adjustments to other parts of the project.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, April 17. The Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee, the group tasked with developing further plans for the causeway project and other TIF expenditures approved March 25, is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 10.

 

China school’s forest April vacation family events

CHINA — Join the staff at the China School’s Forest for fun activities for all ages. Children must be accompanied by an adult. All sessions start at the China Primary School Bus Circle. If programs are canceled due to the weather, it will be posted on the China School Forest- China, Maine facebook page or you can call 968-2255 to ask.

Children enjoying a day in the China School Forest. Contributed photo

These programs are free, but donations are appreciated to help us provide future programs and activities.

Wednesday, April 19: Signs of Spring Nature Walk 9:30 – 11 a.m. Look for signs of spring, make a journey stick and play a nature game. This will be rain or shine. Dress for wet, muddy trails.

Thursday, April 20: Night Hike 7 – 8:30 p.m. They will walk the trails of the forest, listen to night sounds and explore the night sky. Please bring a flashlight and dress warmly. Binoculars will help when looking at the moon, if visible. This program will be rain or shine. If it is raining, we will take a night hike and explore the pond.
Friday, April 21; Animal Skins, Skulls, Tracks and Scat 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. Explore many of Maine’s mammals and talk about how they survive in the wild.

Saturday, April 22: Fairy Houses & Toad Homes 9:30 – 11 a.m. They will read a Fairy House story, gather natural materials and build fairy houses and toad homes in the school forest.
On Saturday, families may bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in the forest. Picnic tables are available at the Primary School Pavilion or throughout the forest.

Saturday, April 22: Pond Explorers 12:30 – 2 p.m. They will use dip nets to collect pond critters and talk about water habitats. Come dressed to possibly get wet.