China selectmen ask for more info from broadband committee

by Mary Grow

Ronald Breton, Chairman of the China Selectboard, requested and received time on the China Broadband Committee’s March 25 agenda. In return, CBC members ended their meeting by drafting an email request for time on the selectboard’s April 26 agenda.

Breton complained that CBC members are failing to keep him and the rest of the selectboard informed about their activities. What he knows, he reads in The Town Line, he said; and the articles make it sound as though the committee is trying to “sell” a broadband plan to townspeople before consulting the selectboard.

If people are convinced that broadband is “good and great,” and selectboard members find otherwise, he fears “They’ll get their asses kicked” by indignant residents.

Speaking as a selectman, he expressed two concerns: he does not want taxes to increase, and he does not want any broadband system to impose more work, like collecting bills or “running a utility,” on town office staff.

He also questioned the CBC proposal to prepare a letter of intent to continue negotiations with Axiom Technologies, of Machias (see The Town Line, March 25). Breton believes only selectmen, not members of committees appointed by the selectboard, have authority to sign letters of intent.

Committee member Jamie Pitney, who had drafted a nine-point outline of a document the committee could flesh out and present to Axiom president Mark Ouellette, agreed with Breton on the authority question. “Letter of intent” is probably incorrect wording, he said; the idea is to give Ouellette something more than a verbal assurance that he is not wasting time negotiating with the CBC.

At their March 18 meeting, CBC members and Ouellette talked about Axiom helping not only to plan broadband service, but also to develop a community outreach program to present information to the selectboard and residents.

After Breton zoomed out of the meeting, committee members further discussed the outreach program. At one point, Tod Detre and Chairman Robert O’Connor were talking about what residents might want for broadband service: would 25 up and 25 down be enough, or would people insist on at least 100 over 100, or maybe a gig over 100, or gig over gig?

“Can you imagine this discussion in a community meeting?” Pitney protested. “You’ll lose two-thirds of the people in the first 10 minutes.”

Members talked for more than an hour about different facets of providing broadband service, including the option of starting with a partial build-out (for $2 to $3.5 million) instead of going town-wide in one swoop (for $6 million or more); the possibility of cooperating with other central Maine towns, and what legal structures might be needed to do so; and potential grant opportunities.

They ended their two-hour meeting with two decisions: to ask to talk with selectmen on Monday, April 26, and to meet at 7 p.m. each of the first four April Thursdays (April 1, 8, 15 and 22) to prepare for the April 26 meeting.

On April 26, the selectboard is scheduled to hold consecutive public hearings, beginning at 6 p.m., on the Second Amendment to the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) document that governs expenditure of TIF funds and on the warrant for the June 8 annual town business meeting (which includes the TIF amendment).

Breton said he expects the hearings to be short enough so the selectboard meeting will begin about its usual time, 6:30 p.m.


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