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


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

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.

Planners find comments worthy of action

by Mary Grow

As promised, at their Aug. 9 meeting China Planning Board members reviewed in detail written comments on proposed ordinance amendments received after their July 26 public hearing.  They also discussed other amendments that are likely to be presented at a future hearing on their way to a November ballot.

Three residents submitted written material repeating their July testimony, expressing concerns about various proposed ordinance changes and related issues.  The changes the board recommends mostly incorporate revised state shoreland guidelines.      Board members found three comments worthy of action.  They corrected the numbering on a set of articles after a resident pointed out cross-references to non-existent sections; they deleted a reference to 30 days for approval of a sign permit after Codes Officer Paul Mitnik said most sign permits are approved or denied within a week; and they corrected a discrepancy in requirements between discontinued signs and discontinued structures by redefining a sign as not a structure.

If the third change remains, the owner of a discontinued structure that does not meet land use requirements will have up to five years to reuse it or give up; the owner of a discontinued sign will have two years to reuse or remove it.

Otherwise, board members decided their draft is satisfactory.  Board member Milton Dudley said that he did not believe one person’s comments were a valid reason to change state guidelines.

One proposal the board rejected would require lighted signs to be turned off when a business closes for the day.  The draft ordinance would require lighted signs be turned off at 10 p.m.  Mitnik said he did not intend to be on China roads to enforce either deadline, though he would respond to a complaint of an ordinance violation.

A majority of the board approves of “grandfathering” signs that do not meet current or new ordinance requirements, allowing them to stand.  Mitnik said asking business owners to remove all non-conforming signs would be difficult because there are many in town.

In addition to shoreland and related issues covered at the July 26 hearing, board members discussed amended conditional use criteria and endorsed a draft approved by an earlier board.

They discussed what requirements for converting a seasonal residence to year-round are useful in protecting lake water quality.  A legal septic system is essential, they agreed; other requirements, like lot size and setback from the lake, seemed less important.

Mitnik said China’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee and selectmen want fishing docks and perhaps a trail at the causeway at the head of the China Lake, between The Landing restaurant and Church Park.  The current ordinance would not allow them, so Mitnik suggested adding language exempting water-dependent facilities and uses from setback requirements, as allowed by state law.

Planning Board members intend to continue work on draft ordinance revisions at their Aug. 23 meeting.  Board Chairman Frank Soares proposes another public hearing, perhaps in conjunction with the selectmen, at a date not yet set.  He said a final draft needs to be ready by Oct. 19 for inclusion on a Nov. 8 local ballot.

…but it’s still baseball season

Lars Jonassen

Erskine Academy head baseball coach Lars Jonassen is working on footwork drills during a recent baseball camp. Jonassen has been coaching for 43 years.
Photos by Mark Huard, Central Maine Photography

Selectmen OK purchase of new police cruiser; ask transfer committee to reconsider

by Mary Grow

At their Aug. 8 meeting, China selectmen voted unanimously to buy a new police vehicle, after an hour-long discussion with two of the town’s part-time police officers that segued into a third discussion of speeding in China Village.

Selectmen then spent another hour rediscussing the relocation of the swap shop, aka free for the taking building, at the transfer station before reversing their July 25 decision on the issue.

Oakland Police Chief Michael Tracy and Sergeant Tracey Frost, two of the officers working part-time in China, attended the meeting to explain the need to replace China’s current police truck.  Because the 2012 truck has a trade-in value of $21,000 and the town has a $20,000 grant for a police vehicle, Frost said selectmen can buy a 2017 Ford Explorer through law enforcement sources for $22,000, have it custom painted and equipped and have money left for additional equipment.

Frost called the Chevrolet pick-up “a great truck, but not a great police vehicle.”  The planned new one would have a heavy-duty transmission for sudden deceleration and acceleration (for example, when a policeman meets a speeding vehicle and turns around to chase it) and a heavy-duty electrical system to accommodate radar, a radio, computer and lights.
He plans better lights that will make the new vehicle more visible and include capacity to illuminate a wide area.  The Explorer will have four-wheel drive for winter camp checks and other back-road work.

After Frost’s presentation, China Village residents requested another discussion of speeding problems in the village.  They said nothing had been done after the two earlier discussions; selectmen and Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said there had been increased police patrols.

Selectman Ronald Breton said in six hours two Oakland officers observed 200 vehicles, found 44 miles an hour in the 25-mile-an-hour zone the highest speed, stopped four vehicles and issued two warnings and two summonses – all to Neck Road residents.

Chief Tracy said he could borrow and post an inconspicuous radar device that would record speed.  Selectmen and residents asked him to do so.

Other board and audience members and the two Oakland policemen mentioned other town roads on which drivers routinely exceed speed limits.

Selectmen then returned to the police car issue and unanimously approved buying the new cruiser.  Frost estimated delivery will take a couple months.

Frost added that he enjoys working in China, even after a 40-hour week in Oakland, and praised Tracy as an excellent chief.

Transfer Station Committee members asked selectmen to reconsider their July 25 decision to reject the committee recommendation on relocating the swap shop.  Committee Chairman Frank Soares and members told the board having the swap shop close to the waste hopper causes major traffic congestion, especially on busy Saturday mornings.

The proposed new site would be south and east of the current one and would create additional paved parking space.  The committee recommends a 12-by-20-foot building.

Past and future committee member Linda O’Connor and planning board member Tom Miragliuolo, in the audience, said most towns offer some kind of free for the taking area.  Selectmen Irene Belanger and Joann Austin, the two supporters of the committee plan at the July 25 meeting, believe Palermo residents look forward to the service when Palermo begins using China’s transfer station in January 2017.

Selectman Neil Farrington insisted the building needed more consistent management – O’Connor offered to head a volunteer management group – and Breton and Board Chairman Robert MacFarland remained concerned about the source of funds and the regulatory requirements for putting up a larger building in a different place.

Ultimately, a motion authorizing the new building, setting the total price at no more than $12,000, with $6,000 to come from the selectmen’s $45,000 contingency fund approved at town meeting and the rest from the transfer station budget, and making construction conditional on necessary approvals (from the China Planning Board, the state fire marshal and/or any other relevant agency) was approved 4-1, with MacFarland still opposed.

In other business Aug. 8, selectmen made three appointments: Todd Dunn to the recreation committee, Tom Michaud to the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) committee and O’Connor to the transfer station committee.      After 40 minutes’ discussion of handicapped access to the portable classroom behind the town office with Fairfield contractor Kevin Violette, they ended up where they intended to be two weeks earlier, authorizing Violette to build an ADA-compliant ramp for no more than $9,000.

They authorized board member Neil Farrington to have the doors on the old town house repaired at a cost not to exceed $1,800, from the maintenance budget approved at town meeting.

L’Heureux said he expects to be able to recommend a 2016-17 tax rate at the board’s Aug. 22 meeting.  By town meeting vote, the first half payment is due by Friday, Sept. 30.