China selectboard hears from heads of two advisory committees

by Mary Grow

China select board members heard updates from the heads of two advisory committees at their June 21 meeting, and took the actions one requested.

Sheldon Goodine, chairman of the Municipal Building Committee, reported on plans for an addition to the town office, plans that have grown since the committee’s June 9 meeting (see The Town Line, June 16, p. 3).

Goodine shared a sketch of a 34-by-64-foot one-story storage building. At his request, select board members authorized Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood to find an engineer or architect to draft a more formal plan.

Hapgood said the person hired could be paid from the current year’s contingency fund, which has about $23,000 unspent that could be carried forward after the June 30 end of the fiscal year.

Board members also appointed two new members to the Municipal Building Committee, as Goodine requested. Edwin Bailey and Dennis Simmons were appointed until June 30, and later in the meeting reappointed for fiscal year 2022-23, with many other volunteers and appointed officials whose terms end June 30.

Goodine gave board members his opinion that the former portable classroom, used for committee meetings, voting, weekly senior citizen gatherings and other events, is unlikely to last more than another three or four years.

He proposed making the new addition two stories instead of one, on a foundation instead of a slab, with a meeting room on the second floor, made handicapped accessible by a stair lift. An alternative would be a new building to replace the portable classroom.

Hapgood said the portable classroom is too small for voting, given the number of booths required for a town with China’s population. She urged select board members to consider the need for meeting space as they discuss a new building or addition.

Later in the meeting, Hapgood shared results of the June 14 straw poll on the format for the annual town business meeting: of 275 residents who answered (660 came to the polls), 162 preferred an open town meeting and 111 preferred a written ballot. One requested both options; another recommended select board members make decisions – like a town council, Hapgood commented.

Select board members left open what plan or plans the engineer or architect will be asked to work with, waiting to get a cost estimate for his or her work.

The second June 21 report was from Robert O’Connor, chairman of the China Broadband Committee (CBC). He brought select board members up to date on negotiations for phased expansion of broadband service in China in cooperation with Direct Communications of Rockland, Idaho, through its subsidiary, Unitel of Unity, Maine (see The Town Line, June 23, p. 3).

O’Connor outlined a proposal to spend almost $1.2 million to extend service to underserved and unserved China homes, using a state grant, China Tax Increment Financing funds, money from Direct Communications and perhaps other grants and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money.

He said he is likely to return to the select board’s July 5 meeting to ask members to sign a memorandum of understanding with Unitel representatives.

An accompanying map showed that many of the underserved and unserved homes are at the ends of fire roads along the lake and dead-end roads in the backlands. Select board member Wayne Chadwick objected to town funds providing broadband service to those residents; they had to pay for their own electric lines, if they have them, so he believes they should pay for broadband service, if they want it.

One problem CBC members encountered is that the accuracy of the map is doubtful, and an accurate map is necessary to apply for a state grant. O’Connor said he is waiting to hear from the Maine Connectivity Authority about mapping, and about the schedule for the next round of grants.

Chadwick did approve of a new proposed expenditure of ARPA funds – in fact, select board chairman Ronald Breton said, he suggested it. Labeled “Senior Citizens Fuel Support Fund,” as drafted it would “be used to help offset a senior resident’s fuel (electricity, propane, oil) bill up to $500” between Nov. 1, 2022, and April 1, 2023 “or until funding runs out.”

The idea is to make a very simple process by which someone who is over 65 and has lived in China for at least a year could get help with fuel prices next winter. The draft proposal has no income requirement – deliberately, Chadwick said, to avoid limiting the aid to people who are accustomed to filling out financial aid forms.

Breton, Jeanne Marquis and Janet Preston all thought there should be an income cap. Chadwick said he would not object, if the application form were kept simple enough so that people would not be discouraged from signing up.

Preston asked why only senior citizens should benefit. Chadwick replied that families with children have other sources of aid. Preston also pointed out that the proposed expenditure helps for only one year; perhaps a fund to upgrade heating equipment would be more useful.

Whatever select board members decide will be submitted to voters to approve or reject the expenditure. Breton hopes a question can be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Another debate was over Hapgood’s proposal to have the gravel parking areas at the head of China Lake’s east basin paved. When the causeway project was done, they were deliberately left gravel, because paving was supposed to increase runoff into the muldoon that drains into the lake.

The June 21 argument was over whether the packed gravel also creates run-off, and whether pavement would make the situation better or worse.

Hapgood said pavement would permit striping to guide people parking their boat trailers and would discourage people from doing “donuts” in the gravel. Chadwick and audience member Brent Chesley said the gravel is too compacted to absorb water.

Preston feared increased run-off. China Region Lakes Alliance (CRLA) Executive Director Scott Pierz asked from the audience what run-off control measures could go with the proposed pavement.

Pierz wondered if the CRLA’s Youth Conservation Corps might install a buffer between the parking areas and the water. Hapgood immediately interpreted his question as an offer to have Conservation Corps members do the labor if the town provided materials. She welcomed the idea.

Select board members postponed deciding whether to pave to their special end-of-year meeting, scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday, June 30. Hapgood said she would like a decision in time to coordinate the project with work planned at the nearby Circle K convenience store and gas station, under a state Department of Environmental Protection permit.

In other business, select board members chose Pierce Works, LLC, of China, to do this year’s roadside mowing. Hapgood said the town’s request for bids drew no response, so she contacted Pierce, the company doing Windsor’s roadsides.

Select board members left it up to Hapgood and Director of Public Services Shawn Reed to decide whether China needs one or two mowings. The price, Hapgood said, would be $3,995 for a single mowing or $7,990 for two mowings, with roadside brush clearing extra.

Board members approved a long list of appointments for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Hapgood said all are reappointments except the addition of David Savage, Oakland’s codes enforcement officer, as China’s building inspector. Hapgood is serving as China’s interim codes officer and plumbing inspector.

After the June 30 special meeting, the next regular China select board meeting will be Tuesday evening, July 5, again moved a day to avoid a Monday holiday. On June 30, the town office will close at noon so staff can finish end-of-fiscal-year business.

 
 

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