China budget committee, town manager review non-final budget

by Mary Grow

CHINA, ME — China Budget Committee members and Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood spent two hours March 24 reviewing a non-final draft of the 2022-23 municipal budget.

Committee members made no decisions, but they got many questions answered. China Select Board members were scheduled to work on the budget at their March 28 meeting, and the budget committee is scheduled to meet again at 6:30 pm. Thursday, March 31, in the town office meeting room.

The public works account is one of the largest, at more than $1.4 million. Hapgood cited two important unknowns, one global and one local.

The global issue is where petroleum prices will go between now and the June 30, 2023, the end of the upcoming fiscal year. If the per-ton price of paving is too high when the town seeks bids, Hapgood said she would consider postponing scheduled work for a year.

The local issue is vehicle maintenance and repair. China’s driver/mechanic, Josh Crommett, resigned and has not yet been replaced. If his replacement can continue to do maintenance in-house, instead of sending vehicles out for work, the town will save money.

The proposed transfer station budget is more than $625,000. Hapgood explained proposed staffing changes and building maintenance issues. She told committee members two pending issues, whether to abandon the present RFID (radio frequency identification) system and go back to stickers and whether to build a guardhouse at the entrance, remain undecided.

Several other accounts generated brief discussion.

Committee member Michael Sullivan asked whether the China Broadband Committee was likely to make enough progress to justify a proposed $1,000 appropriation, or “Is their job impossible?”

Committee Chairman Thomas Rumpf replied that the committee’s reaching out to potential broadband suppliers seemed useful. After voters in November 2021 rejected the committee’s proposal to borrow money for expanded broadband service, select board members voted unanimously to authorize the committee to continue working.

Elizabeth Curtis asked why the Thurston Park Committee needed an appropriation from taxpayers in addition to the recommended allotment of Tax Increment Financing money. Hapgood replied that TIF rules did not allow TIF money to cover some necessary expenditures, like repairing washed-out roads or cleaning up storm-damaged trees.

Looking at the request for $49,500 for cemetery care, up from $34,000 in the current year, Hapgood said the recommended increase is to cover a backlog of maintenance and to pay a summer intern who will catalog graves. The town is responsible for taking care of about two dozen of China’s 30 or more cemeteries.

China voters will have a written-ballot town business meeting on Tuesday, June 14, with polls in the portable building behind the town office open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. As the budget committee meeting ended, Hapgood asked for members’ opinions on an open meeting, as in pre-pandemic days, versus a written ballot.

The reply was consensus that each has a major advantage and a major disadvantage. At an open meeting, people can ask questions, get correct answers and debate pros and cons; but a small minority of voters attend. More voters participate in a written ballot; but many are uninformed or misinformed about the questions they vote on.


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