Fundraising chicken BBQ at fair

Members of Boynton-Webber American Legion Post #179

Members of Boynton-Webber American Legion Post #179, in South China, in conjunction with the Lily of the Valley Order of the Eastern Star #157, held a fundraising chicken BBQ at the Windsor Fair recently. John Wardwell, past grand patron of OES #157, left, and Neil Farrington, commander of post #179, spearheaded the effort. Sponsors of the BBQ included The Red Barn, B&M Baked Beans, Huhtamaki and The Home Depot. Contributed photo

TIF committee makes first recommendations

by Mary Grow

China’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee made its first recommendation to selectmen at the committee’s Aug. 29 meeting.

The committee asked selectmen to present to town voters on Nov. 8 Four Seasons Club President Frank Soares’ request for up to $50,000 for specified improvements on the club’s trails in town.  The vote was unanimous with Soares abstaining.

The trails are usually called snowmobile and ATV trails, but Soares emphasized that they are intended for walkers, skiers, horseback riders and others – though not for high-speed travelers or the four-wheel-drive trucks that have done damage in some areas.  One reason to make the improved sections up to 35 feet wide is to make room for ATV riders and horse riders to meet safely, he said.

Better trails will also improve access for emergency vehicles, he pointed out.

The proposed work includes bridging a wet area and the Sheepscot River.  These two projects will complete connections through the town, allowing people to follow a trail system from Wiscasset and the rest of the coast to Newport and thence throughout northern and western Maine, Soares said.  He expects some through-riders will patronize China’s restaurants.

Asked if there were enough local volunteers for routine trail maintenance, Soares said no.  Four Seasons Club membership is high, he said, but only a small number of “dedicated” people work on the trails.

Judy Stone of the Thurston Park Committee said her group, too, might seek TIF funding to help with access to the park and its trails.

TIF money is to be used for economic and community development.  China’s TIF plan includes development of recreational facilities, like trails.

Also discussed at the Aug. 29 meeting were the committee’s plans for improved fishing and boating access at the head of China Lake and the much less specific idea for development in South China Village, including the boat landing there.

One piece of the head of lake project is purchase of land owned by Susan Bailey and used informally for boat trailer parking.  Bailey originally offered to sell the town two pieces of land she owns; Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said she is now willing to sell only the small, mostly-wetland lot the committee is interested in.

However, her asking price is well over the assessed value, and committee members considered it unreasonable.  They authorized L’Heureux to negotiate with Bailey for a significantly lower price.

At the committee’s previous meeting, member Dale Worster proposed a sweeping redesign of South China Village, with a new street of fashionable shops – not a shopping mall, he emphasized Aug. 29 – and a better boat landing.  His idea has two goals: to make China a place where people stop, instead of just driving through on their way to the coast, and to use the $5 million expected from the TIF over 20 years to make a visible impact.

South China residents Helen Hanson and Christopher Barnes attended the Aug. 29 meeting to ask committee members to leave the village as it is, a quiet residential area – although, Hanson joked, it would be nice if the sidewalk were extended past her house.      Committee Chairman Amber McAlister assured Hanson and Barnes the committee has no intention of imposing things – the town does not plan to buy from unwilling sellers or to use eminent domain for TIF projects.  She promised to keep Hanson informed of future discussions.

L’Heureux sees the area around Route 3 and the Hannaford supermarket as ripe for development.  He recommended committee members be proactive, lest the town be forced to react to unwelcome outside projects.

The Aug. 29 meeting opened with a presentation by Kennebec Valley Council of Governments Executive Director Rosie Vanadestine on revolving loan funds for local businesses.  Committee members intend to propose a fund to benefit new or expanding China businesses, but are not sure they can work out details in time for a Nov. 8 ballot question.

The next TIF Committee meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, in the town office.

China sets tax rate at 15.5 mils

by Mary Grow

At a special meeting Aug. 29, China selectmen set the 2016-17 tax rate at 15.5 mils ($15.50 for each $1,000 of valuation), as recommended by assessor William Van Tuinen.  The new rate is a decrease of 0.1 mils (10 cents per $1,000) from the 2015-16 rate.      Because state law has increased the homestead exemption for people whose Maine house is their principal residence from $10,000 to $15,000, homeowners who have made no taxable improvements to their property can expect their bills to go down by more than the rate decrease.  Owners of seasonal residences and businesses are likely to see a tax increase.

A letter selectmen signed to accompany tax bills explains that three of the four main components of local taxes increased – the school budget, the county budget and the municipal budget.  The fourth, China’s obligation to FirstPark in Oakland, remained the same.  However, increases in property valuations due to new building, plus a more determined effort to locate taxable personal property, increased tax revenue as well, making the slightly lower rate possible.

By town meeting vote, the first half payment on local taxes is due at the town office by the close of business Friday, Sept. 30. China selectmen hold their next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, changed from the usual Monday to avoid the Labor Day holiday.  The meeting will be preceded by a 6:55 p.m. public hearing on the annual changes to the town’s General Assistance Ordinance.

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Should we spend .5 million dollars on parking lot?

by Al Althenn
Member China Budget Committee

There currently is an initiative underway to push the taxpayers into spending over one half million dollars on a Parking Lot at the North end of the East basin of China Lake. See e-mail transmission underlined below just as it was received from the Town Office by me 8-17-2016:

Please see the attached draft estimate associated with the potential  redesign initiative of the Causeway Road for economic development consideration, and therefore for TIF funding. As noted at TIF Committee meetings, this is a preliminary report and will change over time as the project is perfected to be sent to the Select Board for review and then to the voters.  Spending our money this way one can expect would not only bring about higher taxes but significantly higher boat traffic and other unwanted issues on the lake.

The people paying the big property tax bills investing near the water would get to listen to more boats racing back and forth churning up the already dirty lake water, and would surely be adding to the litter, noise, and congestion, while the whole town has the privilege of paying the bill to support this intrusion. Certainly it would detract from the property values of lake front owners not to forget those near or within ear shot of the lake.

WHY? What do people in China get for this sacrifice in money and peace? Maybe a milfoil infestation.

Please see above mentioned chart below.page3pict1

China selectmen to call special meeting to set 2016-17 tax rate

by Mary Grow

China selectmen have scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 29, to set the 2016-17 tax rate – they hope.

At the board’s Aug. 22 regular meeting, Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said he and assessor William Van Tuinen were “very, very, very close” to having the necessary calculations done to recommend a tax rate.  He expects it to be lower than the 2015-16 rate.

By town meeting vote, the first half payment of local taxes is due Sept. 30.

The TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee meets at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29 to continue discussion of possible projects at both ends of China Lake.  The selectmen’s and TIF meetings will be in the town office meeting room.

Selectmen also rescheduled their next regular meeting, which would have fallen on Labor Day Monday, to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6.  The meeting will be preceded by a 5:55 p.m. public hearing on the annual amendments to the General Assistance Ordinance (state changes in allowable amounts of aid the town can give).  The agenda is likely to include a report on the survey of China’s population, with a focus on senior citizens, L’Heureux said.

Also likely to be on the Sept. 6 agenda is discussion of whether commercial haulers who bring China household waste to the transfer station should be charged a fee.  Selectman Irene Belanger has argued for months that they should not, because householders are already paying taxes that help support the transfer station.

To Belanger’s surprise, board Chairman Robert MacFarland made a motion to eliminate the fee.  Action was postponed because the item was not on the Aug. 22 agenda.

Selectmen made two unanimous decisions Aug. 22.

They voted to appropriate either $9,450 or $9,475 – no one could remember the exact figure – for Violette Construction to build a new handicapped access ramp at the portable classroom behind the town office.  After a long discussion of whether the money should come from the selectmen’s contingency fund or from the capital improvements reserve fund, they agreed on the latter source, and asked L’Heureux to seek clarification from the Maine Municipal Association on appropriate uses of the contingency fund.

They voted to use left-over funds from the grant for the new police vehicle plus the trade-in for the current vehicle to add a radar kit and a defibrillator to the new car’s equipment.

At a future meeting board members will need to decide on local warrant articles for Nov. 8 voting.  L’Heureux sent them a nine-item list, which was not discussed Aug. 22.  It includes:

• Possible amendments to the Transfer Station Ordinance.
• Possible amendments to the Transfer Station Flow Control Ordinance.
• Land Use Ordinance amendments discussed by the Planning Board Land, including changes dealing with seasonal residences, shoreland zoning and signs and changes needed to accommodate TIF Committee proposals for expanding lake access at the causeway at the head of China Lake.
• Possible uses of TIF money, including establishing a revolving/forgivable loan fund for local businesses, purchasing the Bailey property at the head of the lake as part of the TIF plan and providing a trails grant for the China Four Seasons Club.  (ep)
— Purchase of the Ortega property behind the town office.
• Acceptance of the 13-lot subdivision on the east side of Lakeview Drive offered to the town by Wachusetts Property.
•  Setting up a capital fund for the transfer station, to be funded by Palermo’s annual contribution once Palermo residents begin using China’s facility in January 2017.
• Setting up a fund for Thurston Park.
• Adding the Central Maine Power Company substation expansion off Route 3 to China’s TIF.

Answers to history exam at China Community Days

page8pict1page8pict2

CHINA News – TIF committee eyeing two major projects for consideration

by Mary Grow

Members of China’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee are discussing two major projects on China Lake, one near China Village and the other involving a good part of South China Village.  They are also debating whether to set aside part of the TIF income for a revolving loan fund for small businesses in town.

The project that committee members call the causeway project, referring to the boat landing at the head of China Lake and nearby areas, is more advanced.  At the committee’s Aug. 15 meeting, Mark McCluskey, of A. E. Hodsdon Engineers, presented detailed plans for additional parking on the north side of Causeway Street and fishing platforms extending over the water west of the bridge.  His preliminary cost estimate for the work is $517,500.

The South China project is the brainchild of committee member Dale Worster, and so far is only a concept, not approved for serious committee review and lacking detailed planning or cost estimates.  It involves improving the current South China boat landing for lake access and buying most of the properties in the village east of Old Windsor Road and creating a village center running uphill from the former Farrington’s store to the south end of Lakeview Drive, with fancy stores, eateries and other attractions.

Worster would also like to see China partner with a development company to build a retirement community either on the east side of Lakeview Drive or south of Route 3 close to the Hannaford supermarket.

At the Aug. 15 meeting there was preliminary talk of time frames needed to get the causeway project on the Nov. 8 ballot for town voters’ action.   Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux suggested inviting local residents to the committee’s first September meeting to give them information on the plans.

Since the South China project is still in an early stage, there was no discussion of involving South China residents.  Committee member Frank Soares, who also chairs the planning board, predicted many would object.

Worster responded, “Some people might just have to learn to live with progress.” The causeway project requires at least two preliminary steps, amending China’s land use ordinance and buying a piece of land opposite the boat landing.

Codes Officer Paul Mitnik explained a simple ordinance amendment that would exempt “functionally water-dependent uses” from setback requirements from the lake.  State law allows such provisions, he said.  Local ordinance amendments require voter approval.

The land committee members want to recommend buying is owned by Susan Bailey and is currently used as unofficial parking for the boat landing.  L’Heureux said Bailey is willing to sell the town that lot, which is mostly wetland, plus another lot across Lakeview Drive.

Committee members considered Bailey’s asking price too high and agreed they do not favor buying the other lot at any price.  L’Heureux suggested it might provide a new site for the China Village volunteer fire department, whose members would like more room for a larger building; committee members did not want to combine two separate projects.

In one of two substantive votes Aug. 15, committee members unanimously asked L’Heureux to ask Bailey whether she would sell only the lake lot and if so for what price.  New committee member Tom Michaud, whose wife Marie heads China’s LakeSmart program, and China Lake Association President Scott Pierz urged adding measures to protect China Lake water quality.  McCluskey said his plan includes a swale to absorb run-off from part of the proposed parking area.  Committee member and Selectman Joann Austin recommended additional measures, like pervious paving that would absorb water; McCluskey is willing to consider such steps.

Another suggestion discussed inconclusively was to replace the bridge over the China Lake inlet with a box culvert like the one under Routes 202 and 9 a short distance north.  L’Heureux and Robert MacFarland, chairman of the board of selectmen, said the bridge is deteriorating.

In their second substantive vote, committee members unanimously asked L’Heureux to get cost estimates from the contractor who installed the box culvert, so they will have an idea of additional expenditures for bridge replacement (which do not need to come from TIF funds, MacFarland said) and to seek a cost estimate for additional stormwater run-off controls.

The proposed revolving loan fund, as L’Heureux explained it, would be used to provide funding, in small amounts at low interest rates, to supplement bank loans to help local businesses start or expand.  Committee members are undecided whether they should prepare a detailed plan before they ask voter approval, or whether the concept should go on a Nov. 8 ballot with details, like interest rates and maximum amounts per business, to be worked out if voters approve.

The question of lake access was also on the Aug. 15 committee agenda, separate from the China Village and South China projects, but committee Chairman Amber McAllister said she didn’t have the energy to deal with it.

The next TIF Committee meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, Aug. 29, in the town office.

Nomination papers available in China

by Mary Grow

Nomination papers are now available for China’s Nov. 8 local elections.  According to Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood, the following people’s terms end this year:

• On the Board of Selectmen, Joann Austin, Neil Farrington and Chairman Robert MacFarland.
• On the Planning Board, Toni Wall (District 2) and Thomas Miragliuolo (District 4), and the currently vacant alternate position elected from anywhere in town.
• On the Budget Committee, Thomas Rumpf (District 2), Timothy Basham (District 4), Al Althenn (secretary, elected from anywhere in town) and Jonathan Vogel (at-large position).
• Robert Bennett’s position as one of China’s two representatives on the RSU (Regional School Unit) 18 board.  Hapgood said Bennett will not be a candidate for re-election.

Hapgood said signed nomination papers must be returned to the town office by 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, for candidates’ names to appear on the ballot.

Letters to the editor, Week of August 18, 2016

Not seeking re-election

To the editor:

I am writing this letter to notify the residents and voters of the Town of China that I have chosen not to run for re-election for a position as one of our two representatives on the RSU #18 School Board. I hope that one or more interested and committed China citizens will seek the post.

I ran for and was elected to this position three years ago with the intent of trying to ensure that China’s students from pre-K to eighth grade level are receiving the best education available to them. As a retired teacher and concerned citizen, I believed I was qualified to make this decision. I found the attempt to be both extremely rewarding and definitely challenging. I got to meet and interact with great people on the RSU board and in the schools’ staff and administration. In addition, I had many opportunities to interact with and observe a large number of our town’s students and see their excellent achievements, both in and outside of the classroom.

The position also brought with it some factors that I did not anticipate and that were most certainly daunting in some respects. This was especially true during budget season and I pass on to you my absolute belief that while the quality of education cannot be measured in dollars and cents, our childrens’ learning must be supported by our tax dollars. I am totally convinced that the RSU #18 administrators do their utmost to provide the best educational results at the lowest feasible cost.

And so, I leave this position with very mixed feelings. I believe that I have done my job in validating our kids’ learning at the lowest possible price. While the time spent has at times been frustrating, I enjoyed it in almost all respects. My fervent hope is that another individual with a passion for young people, and their education, will come forward to follow in my footsteps.

Bob Bennett
China

Vassalboro tax rate set at 14.05 mil

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen have set the 2016-17 tax rate at 14.05 mils ($14.05 for each $1,000 of valuation), Town Manager Mary Sabins reported after the board’s Aug. 8 meeting.

Sabins said the new rate is 0.35 mils (35 cents per thousand dollars) higher than the 2015-16 rate.    Tax bills should go out this month; by town meeting vote, the first quarterly payment is due Monday, Sept. 26.

Because the state has increased the homestead exemption, the increase will have more effect on owners of businesses and seasonal homes than on people whose Vassalboro home is their primary residence.          In other business Aug. 8, Sabins said selectmen decided to put two local questions on a Nov. 8 ballot.  One will ask voters to approve or reject changes to the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance developed by the planning board; the other, not yet worded, will deal with proposed sidewalks in East Vassalboro.

Public hearings on both questions are scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8, before that evening’s selectmen’s meeting, with the shoreland ordinance hearing first, Sabins said.

Selectmen accepted with regret the resignation of Police Chief Richard Phippen and expressed appreciation for his service, Sabins said.  She will be advertising for a new police chief.

Tom Richards was reappointed to the cemetery committee.

Sabins reported that the recently formed senior citizens’ working group is focusing on transportation, seen as a major need in Vassalboro.  At the group’s next meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 23, in the town office meeting room, a representative of the Neighbors Driving Neighbors program will explain it and a representative of the medical office in North Vassalboro will talk about programs for the elderly offered there.